Summary: Jesus models a life filled with compassion because he is looking for more people to show compassion and to fulfill a great need.
I’m going to give you a quick quiz. Don’t worry, it’s easy! I’ll give you a word and you give me the opposite. READY?
The opposite of Fast is… Slow.
The opposite of Long is… Short.
The opposite of Cold is… Hot.
The opposite of Young is… Old.
The opposite of Soft is… Hard.
The opposite of Sour is… Sweet.
The opposite of High is… Low.
The opposite of Rich is… Poor.
The opposite of Love is… Hate???
I’m not so sure about that! From my own experiences, I’m coming to realize that the greatest insult against someone is not to hate them, it’s to be apathetic.
Here’s a definition of apathy:
Not taking any interest in anything. Not bothering to do anything. It’s a lack of emotion or concern, especially when it relates to matters of general concern.
Remember back to when you were a child in school and someone from your class would pick on you? Your Mom or Dad would give you advice such as, “Just ignore them!” or “Pretend they’re not there!” or “Don’t give them any attention!” Eventually, over time, ignoring that person fixed the problem. They would find someone else to pick on; FINALLY, they were someone else’s problem!
Even though this advice can help us momentarily cope with a bad situation, it’s really just apathy in disguise. From the time of our youth, we’ve been taught to emotionally insulate ourselves. The truth is, those who intentionally hurt us are actually hurt and broken, and cannot help themselves. What they really need is more love and compassion, not apathy.
A famous American author once said, “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw
If you please, turn your Bibles to Matthew 9:35-38. In this passage, Jesus addresses the issue of apathy…
35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Here, Jesus perfectly modeled the solution to apathy in three steps:
1) SAW THE CROWDS
First, Jesus “saw the crowds.” He opened his eyes to what was going on around him. Jesus didn’t turn a blind eye to those who were hurting. He didn’t pretend they weren’t there. He didn’t isolate himself from the realities of our world. He made himself aware of their needs by giving them his attention.
Many years ago when I was living on OSU campus as a freshman in college, I can not express to you how many times I passed judgment on those who were begging on the streets. I’d make up little stories in my head about how they’re probably a drug addict who got themselves into their mess. When I’d see one of those beggars on my side of the street about a block away from me, I’d go out of my way to cross over to the other side of the street… just to avoid them! I couldn’t bring myself to look at them in the eye and tell them I had no change when, truthfully, I carried plenty of change. I was skeptical that any money that I did give them would go to boos, cigarettes, or some other kind of drug. I’d easily justify my actions by saying, “Why would I enable a drug addiction? They’re better off without my money.” It’s always easier just to ignore the problem.
But, Jesus doesn’t call us to do the easy thing. He calls us to get out of our comfort zone so we can LOOK directly at the brokenness of our world. He wants us to see the harassed, the helpless, the broken, and the oppressed. Jesus spent most of his time with these people, and so should we.
2) FELT COMPASSION
Second, Jesus “had compassion on them”. Jesus didn’t insulate himself from their pain and suffering. He lowered his guard and made himself emotionally vulnerable. He did NOT repress the emotions that were stirred up. The Greek origin of the word “compassion” is splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee (Splagchnizomai – Splagchnon means bowels or intestines). German Theologian, Karl Barth gives us a revealing look at to what this Greek word means:
“The term obviously defies adequate translation. What it means is that the suffering and sin and abandonment and peril of these men not merely went to the heart of Jesus, but right into His heart, into Himself, so that their whole plight was now His own, and as such He saw and suffered it far more keenly than they did. Splagchnizomai means that He took their misery upon Himself, taking it away from them and making it His own."