Have you ever paused to marvel at the compassion of Christ? What a wonder that when God Himself takes our own flesh and blood, and walks among us in our fallen world, He is known for His compassion.
We might expect He would be erupting with anger and frustration at every turn. Human sin is cosmic treason against Him and His Father. To purchase a people for Himself, He would be brutally abused and mistreated, even to the point of an excruciating death. Make no mistake, it was fitting for the Son of God to burn with righteous anger. He did (Mark 3:5), and He will (Revelation 6:16). And yet, as God Himself moved among us, in utter holiness and perfection, He gave us stunning glimpses into a heart of compassion.
Remarkably, the two parables which may be Jesus’ greatest, and most well-known, illustrate the compassion of Christ. In Luke 10:25–37, Jesus tells of the good Samaritan. Verse 33 is the hinge: “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion.” Both priest and Levite had passed by the man lying there half dead. But when the Samaritan passed by, he—like Jesus Himself—had compassion.
Compassion is the key for seeing the heart of the parable. Compassion is Jesus’ calling card in the Gospels; it is attributed to no one else. Jesus is the one who characteristically has compassion and then acts: He shows us mercy by approaching us, addressing our wounds, carrying us to safety, and making provision for our care until His return. First and foremost, the Son of God Himself has been a neighbor to us sinners—stemming from His compassion. Now, having become recipients of His mercy, we then echo it in our treatment of others.
The second, of course, is the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). How will the father respond to his son who has “wasted his substance with riotous living” (Luke 15:13)? Verse 20 is the turning point: “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” Here again, a heart of compassion, rather than contempt, unleashes a series of merciful actions. Like the good Samaritan, the father moves toward his half-dead son, rather than away. And he runs, showing us not only the heart of Christ Himself but His Father’s heart toward us through Him. The Father feels compassion for His prodigals, runs to them, embraces them, and kisses them by sending His own Son as His compassion incarnate.
The implications for Christ’s people—those who are the recipients of His compassion—are plain enough in the Gospels, but the Epistles make them even clearer. Christ not only has compassion on His people and gives them His help, but He also forms His people into instruments of His compassion on others. “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Such people show compassion on fellow believers in prison, even at great cost to themselves (Hebrews 10:34). We learn to show sympathy and comfort to the hurting among us, not like Job’s three friends (Job 2:11), but like his brothers and sisters (Job 42:11). And we put on, with compassion, its accompanying virtues: “mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12). In other words, we become the kind of people who see others and then have compassion on them.
Both parables, of the good Samaritan and the prodigal son, may hinge on compassion, but in both parables, and in Jesus’ own life and ministry, seeing preceded feeling. “When he saw him, he had compassion” (Luke 10:33). “His father saw him and had compassion” (Luke 15:20). And Jesus Himself, with the widow at Nain: “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her” (Luke 7:13). As with the crowds: “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; Mark 6:34). Perhaps the biggest obstacle to our doing likewise is that our gaze is so often fixed on self, not others. May God give us eyes to see—and the compassion of Christ.
—From “Moved By All Our Sorrows” by David Mathis