Matthew 9.35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
If you go back and read before this passage, you’ll see 15 different stories of Jesus doing this: teaching people, preaching the gospel, and healing people. And the whole thing is motivated by compassion, because, like it says here, they were “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”
What happens to sheep without a shepherd?
They get eaten by wolves, or, like the ones I saw at Shepherd of the Ozarks in 2004, they fall off cliffs and die slowly in a shallow creek, despite the repeated efforts of rifle-toting leadership on 4-wheelers trying to end its misery.
We’re just like this and the people around us are just like this: like sheep without a shepherd. But God, moved by compassion, sent Jesus to be our Good Shepherd. That means Jesus leads us to know Him. Jesus leads us to accept His forgiveness from the cross. Jesus heals what’s broken in us. And Jesus does that because He, too, was moved by compassion.
So what is compassion?
“Love in action.” The word used in the Bible literally means “to be moved in the inward parts,” that is, your heart is moved, you feel emotion, you feel this electricity in your gut that compels you to move.
It’s an emotion and an action. If it was just an emotion, it wouldn’t be love in action. It would sympathy. If it was just “doing good,” love doesn’t have to be part of that equation (it can be duty or community service hours or getting a tax break…)
But compassion is love in action. You feel an emotion that moves you towards people who are broken, hurting, or in need, and you do something about that need.
What does compassion look like then? We’ll explore that in the next post…