Transforming the World (4) The Compassion of the Christ

This is a re-post from a series I’ve kindly been asked to do over at Jesus Creed

The next two chapters of Transforming the World?: the Gospel and Social Responsibility (edited by Dewi Hughes and Jamie Grant) focus on Jesus and Paul respectively:

Today is Alistair Wilson on ‘The Compassion of the Christ’.

A couple of questions lie before us:

What is the relationship between the kingdom of God and social responsibility?

And how does Jesus act as a model for Christians in terms of the relationship between the gospel and care for others?

Wilson comes at this using a fairly narrow focus of texts that talk about the compassion of Jesus. For example, Mt 9:36; Mt 14:14 (cf Mk 6:34); Mt 15:32 (cf. Mk 8:2); Mk 9:22; Lk 7:13; Lk 10:33; Lk 15:20. [and he does not spend much time in Luke because another chapter in the book by Howard Marshall looks at Luke-Acts]

He also brings in the important text of John 11:33.  “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

I was preaching on this verse recently in a context of great sadness. It’s a powerful text of Jesus’ deep emotional response to death and the suffering it causes. Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (11:5). Jesus wept. He was ‘deeply troubled’ in spirit. And he acts to alleviate the suffering in the most extraordinary way – resurrection.

Wilson quotes some guy called “Scott McKnight” (sic!): “In the Gospels, no one but Jesus is described as having ‘compassion’ except the characters of Jesus’ parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) and the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).” And it is clear that the Samaritan and the Father both act as ideal figures of compassion consistent with Jesus’ understanding of God.

And a typical pattern of Jesus’ compassion is as follows (again quoting Scot)

  1. A situation of serious need emerges
  2. Jesus is filled with compassion
  3. A contrast is often made with someone or some group that does not show the required compassion
  4. The compassion of Jesus leads him to alleviate the need.

To take one example: Matthew 9:36 talks of Jesus’ compassion for crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd. The text has a sense of ‘his heart going out’ to them. It is a strong emotion, triggered by the suffering or needs of others which leads to actions to ameliorate that need. The need in this case is due to their lack of leadership, purpose and identity – they are lost, wandering and searching. In other words “they still hadn’t found what they were looking for”

Jesus’ response is to get the disciples to pray for workers for the mission field – and it is ironic that in the end they become the answer to their own prayers.

Wilson makes three points – what do you think of what he says here?

1. Jesus’ compassion resulted as much in declaration of the kingdom as in meeting physical needs.

‘recognition of the centrality of the message of the gospel is a significant aspect of what it means to have compassion as Jesus had compassion.’ (109)

2. It is essential that Christians recognize the need to be involved in the lives of those who are going through painful experiences of life. And such involvement is costly, requires determination and a depth of compassion.

3. Whatever compassion Jesus’ followers may be able to show, it is only Jesus’ compassion which offers hope of an ultimate change of circumstances.

“to lead someone to the risen Jesus, who alone has the power and authority to bring an ultimate and everlasting end to the distress of a human being, is surely the greatest act of compassion which one human being can perform for another.”


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