When we contemplate the compassion of Jesus, we find it beautiful and amazing, touching and motivating, challenging and even threatening. Consider these passages:
"When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36).
"When )esus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick" (Matt. 14:14).
"Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, 'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with Me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way'" (Matt. 15:32).
"Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him" (Matt. 20:34).
"A man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured" (Mark 1:40-42).
These are wonderful accounts of an amazing Man! Multitudes have dedicated their lives to emulating His compassion.
A well-known example is Father Damien. In 1858, Damien decided to become a priest. Soon after entering the priesthood, he was sent from his home country of Belgium to the Hawaiian Islands. After his ordination, he was given charge of various districts in Hawaii.
Then Damien heard of the island of Molokai, a leper settlement, where the government quarantined those who were suffering from leprosy. Damien requested a transfer to Molokai.
When he arrived at the leper colony, he found that strong winds had decimated their settlements. The lepers were lying in the rain in drenched clothing under sodden blankets. He ministered to the sick by washing them, covering their sores and ulcers, and rebuilding their huts. He wanted to improve the settlement and make them comfortable. He taught his leprous parishioners to farm, raise animals, and play music.
After 12 years of this compassionate service, he stood before them and opened his weekly sermon by saying, "We lepers . . ." He had discovered in himself the first symptoms of leprosy, yet he continued his compassionate work with the lepers. In 1889, after 15 years of service to the lepers, Father Damien passed away there on Molokai; he was 49. Damien was motivated by the compassion of Jesus.
How do we define compassion? According to the dictionary, compassion is "pity; to come to the assistance of; to give aid to those in need or difficulty." But somehow, a dictionary definition of compassion doesn't capture the total and implied meaning of compassion, because words on a page or words in the air don't define "compassion."
What's the real definition? What comes to our minds when we think of compassion?
Compassion can be a smile, a prayer, a drink, a satisfying meal, a comforting touch, or a listening ear. Compassion can also be giving money, shelter, clothing, time, care, tears, forgiveness, mercy, peace, and comfort. Compassion requires that you give something, and the highest degree of compassion involves the sacrificial giving of yourself!
The meaning of compassion can also be illuminated in the context of biblical stories, particularly the stories about Jesus. Read Luke 15:20. In response to this touch ing story, Ellen White was inspired to write: "But even this parable, tender and touching as it is, comes short of expressing the infinite compassion of the heavenly Father" (Steps to Christ, p. 53)
As humans, we can only begin to understand Divine Compassion when we have some comprehension of our own true identity and the identity of the Divine One. What am I like? Who am I? When we look at our own character traits, we're often disappointed. We see a lot that isn't appealing! We are sinners, loaded with defects, destined to die, hopeless and helpless, but for the compassionate salvation of Jesus
God is compassionate to us with eternal consequences and that is amazing.
Jesus didn't just value compassion. Jesus didn't just speak about compassion. Jesus didn't just raise the awareness of compassion. He was He remains compassionate! And when someone is compassionate, there is a price to be paid. Compassion costs, and Jesus, along with His Father, paid the exacting price of compassion.
True compassion is not given out of a wealth of discretionary abundance time, money, or energy. True compassion is giving away something that is scarce. For some of us, it may be time; for others, it may be money or energy. For example, the tired, hungry widow at Zarephath baked a final loaf of bread for herself and her son, yet she showed compassion when she shared that bread with the prophet!
Cod with all the time of eternity, all the gold and silver and the cattle on the 1,000 hills, and the energy to create countless galaxies didn't give one of His millions or billions of sinless angels. He gave something He was short on His Son! God gave His only Son. He had no other Son in reserve. He didn't have a spare Son. That's compassion!
When we, the followers of Jesus, contemplate the compassion of Jesus and His Father, we find it beautiful and amazing, touching and motivating, challenging, and threatening. But how can the compassion of Jesus be challenging and threatening?
Here's one example. Adventism has typically emphasized character development, self discipline, resilience, and sanctification. Of course, we do need these qualities, but we don't need the crusty, hardened exteriors that are sometimes an unfortunate by-product of this emphasis.
A certain toughness and resoluteness has enabled many to leave Babylon and join and remain with the Remnant! It has enabled people to do superhuman things empowered by their experience with Jesus. However, one of the challenges of the Christian life is to be resilient and strong and yet retain compassion and gentleness toward others.
Jesus was strong enough to resist the devil and went without food for 40 days, yet He showed compassion when He fed the 5,000. He healed the wounds of others but was uncomplaining when He Himself was wounded. He healed the ear of a cowardly gang member, even though He knew the man was going to ensure that He was beaten and ultimately die an agonizing death!
While we as Adventists are a prophetic move ment, commissioned to take the eternal gospel to all the world, we need to be immersed in the compassion of Jesus. It needs to drip from us! We communicate the gospel not just with magazines, tracts, TV and satellite programs, and public and personal proclamation we communicate Jesus through our compassion.
Read the summary of Jesus' ministry in Luke 4:18, 19. Compassion undergirds the ministry of the Messiah! Good news to the poor is being compassionate, freedom for prisoners is being compassionate, sight for the blind is being compassionate, release for the oppressed is being compassionate, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor is being compassionate.
But does this mean that compassion should limit ministry only to the social gospel? People need Christian compassion, but they are not eternally saved through the compassion of well-meaning Christians. They need to experience Christ's compassion, His atoning grace, and His forgiveness. Compassionate Christians can introduce "closed" people to the atoning Jesus like no one else and like nothing else! The social gospel and the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14 need to embrace.
Ellen G. White wrote, "We all need to sow a crop of patience, compassion, and love . . ." (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, p. 268). We live in a world full of misery and in desperate need of compassion. And in all the world, there's nothing like the compassion of Jesus!
Anthony Kent, General Conference Associate Ministerial Secretary.