Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Remarkable Compassion of Jesus


“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

~Matthew 9:36 (NIV).

(This is the commencement of a five-part series to look at the ‘clothing of love’ so far as Jesus is concerned out of Colossians 3:12-14. The series will look at Jesus’ kindness, humility, gentleness and patience in the remaining four parts.)

What can we derive from the gospel accounts with regard to the compassion of Jesus?

Well, that’s a limited view to begin with, given the gracious compassion of God resplendent throughout history before Jesus and since. But, then, Jesus is our scope.

There are scores of examples of Jesus’ compassion, really, so where do we start? The story of the woman caught in adultery is always a pretty good place to begin the journey. “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” says Jesus in John 8:7 (NIV).

Compassion and Justice

Jesus wasn’t trying to shame those accusing the adulterous woman, those who brought her before him—we see this possibly in his wanting to be distracted from embarrassing them as he wrote in the dirt. It was never Jesus’ interest to gloat during the execution of his judgment, or at any time for that matter. Issuing rebukes is always a serious business requiring the utmost balanced fairness.

Compassion is first about true justice—an equalising justice that underscores the balance known to life. This balance is beyond the balance of the most reasonable human being.

The woman who has was caught in adultery had already been transgressed via the cruel treatment of the band of proud, cowardly men who’d dragged her naked from the bed of her sin... now, we can very well ask, where is the man in cahoots with the adultery? Nowhere to be seen is he!

This highlights only one aspect of the unjust way the woman was brought before Jesus in.

Justice for Jesus was in the fact that on many levels this woman had already been shamed beyond a moral sense of justice. Justice cannot take place when it’s left compassion so far behind. The two go in tandem—in equity.

No system of good justice is without the smallest skerrick of compassion.

Luke’s Gospel – the Essence of Jesus’ Compassion

We ought to be so thankful for Luke’s gospel. It should also be noted—especially by women—how specially considerate Jesus was of women, as revealed by Luke’s precise and well researched gospel. Jesus is shown as always prepared to buck the cultural standard and treat women (and other societal lesser-lights) as equals, when at a time they were second-class citizens of humanity, well behind the male gender.

Luke wanted to highlight, particularly, this aspect of Jesus’ love. Luke himself was implicitly compassionate—a doctor of the finest note is not without this virtue of care.

Compassion and Forgiveness

The entire gospel message centres on forgiveness—God’s compassion to forgive us and ours to forgive all our transgressors.

The compassion of forgiveness and the issues of judgment are polar opposites. Isn’t it peculiar, then, that we’re to forgive and God is to judge, yet we often reverse roles, thinking God’s to forgive us and allow us to judge others?

We may well ask ourselves, however, where’s the compassion in that?

The very best thing of all is we’re never estranged to the compassion of God’s Spirit due that wonderfully sacrificial example of compassion—the Passion of the Christ—1,980 years ago, Jesus at Golgotha, hung between two criminals.

It was the compassion of God that sent the Saviour to the cross. It was the compassion of God to go through with crucifixion. It was the compassion of God to prepare a redemption plan to save us, forgiving our best and worst, and that, in advance.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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