Is Compassion an Option or a Necessity?
Text: Matt 9:35-10:8
- What Aroused Jesus’ Compassion?
Jesus was moved by the spiritual suffering of the people due to sin (Rom 5:12). Their sin had caused a separation from God, or spiritual death. Thus, Jesus described them as “sheep having no shepherd” (Matt 9:36).
Along with spiritual death came physical death and many grievous diseases. Jesus also felt compassion for those with these physical afflictions. Therefore, from the very beginning of His ministry He combined both preaching and healing (Matt 4:23-25; 9:35), providing an example for us to follow. We must treat both the physical and spiritual needs of the people to whom we minister.
In doing so we must show the same compassion as that demonstrated by the Lord Jesus. The Greek word used to describe His sympathy in Matt 9:36 is esplagchnísth¢, derived from splágchnon, intestine or bowel. At that time the bowels were considered to be the seat of emotions, rather than the heart. It is not enough to be able to preach and witness; if we are to be like Christ, we must also have our inner being moved with compassion.
Even believers in Christ are not exempt from sickness and death, but they can bear these things with full trust in God’s providence. Christ continues to serve as our sympathetic high priest (Heb 4:15) helping us face death or any sickness or trial leading to it (Rom 8:37-39). We will ultimately receive a new, resurrected body and at last be freed from the wages of sin (Rom 6:23; 8:23; 1 Cor 15:52-54).
- Why Did Christ Feel So Moved?
Verse 36 says, “because they fainted.” The graphic Greek verb employed is eskulménoi (Majority Text), the perfect passive participle of skúllœ, literally meaning to skin, flay, or lacerate; it occurs in this form only here. The condition of humanity due to sin is truly a gruesome sight as perceived by our Lord (Rom 3:23). We have been skinned by the thorny bushes and sharp rocks into which we, as sheep, happen to wander.
“. . . and were scattered abroad . . .” The Greek verb is errimménoi, the perfect passive participle of rhíptœ, to throw or cast. Thus, the meaning is not merely “scattered abroad” but more violently being cast or thrown down.
“. . . as sheep having no shepherd.” Finally, the sheep had been left totally defenseless. Their human leaders were false and unconcerned (John 10:12,13). Jesus came, however, as the true Savior and Good Shepherd (John 10:1-5).
- Mercy Is to Accompany Compassion
The Greek word “to have mercy” is eleéœ from which éleos, mercy; ele¢mosún¢, alms; eleêmœn, merciful or charitable, are derived. Having mercy involves acting upon our compassion, splagchnízomai (Matt 9:36). It is the outward manifestation of the inner feeling. Our Lord taught that both are necessary in Luke 11:41, which should really be translated, “but rather give as alms those things which you have inside you.” Our good works then must emanate from a heart (or bowels) of concern, eúsplagchnoi (1 Peter 3:8).
It is not an option for a believer in Christ to give alms (ele¢mosún¢), but a necessity (Luke 12:33).