A Love that Defies Understanding
Compassion is a funny thing. Just like so many things in the kingdom of God, it takes the expectations and natural reactions of the world, and it turns them on their head. When we feel that oh-so-human draw to push, to grasp, to fight for the best, and to trample those who stand in our way, Jesus is always there standing in the gap, calling us to humble ourselves, to defer to others, to forgive, to love irrationally, to live in this incredible tension between our desires and His. He calls us to a higher standard, a different way of life: to set down our means to our ends, and instead, take up His means to His ends with the faith that He has something far greater planned than we ever could imagine.
It takes that very faith when we choose to practice compassion, yet there are few characteristics that better demonstrate the love of Christ than this.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Matthew 9:34 ESV
So often we read that verse and think to ourselves, “Well, of course, Jesus had compassion on them! Any decent human being would.” And we forget who exactly this crowd was comprised of. It was comprised of people. Thousands upon thousands of people each with their own selfish needs and agendas fighting for an audience with one man. They looked to Him for even their most basic needs, having no food for themselves and asking Him to provide. They grumbled and complained constantly and even attempted to stone Him on multiple occasions, and, when Jesus, looking for a moment’s solitude, withdrew from them to be alone with the Father, they followed relentlessly, desperately, unremittingly.
Yet, in the face of all of that, Jesus saw them and had compassion. A compassion that would prove to be more relentless, more desperate, more unremitting than their pursuit of Him. The compassion he showed goes beyond just this simple idea of pity, it is coupled with action. The Son of God saw these people just as they were—a giant, unmitigated disaster bent on their own destruction—and lowered Himself to their level, felt their pain, but He did not stop there. He acted. He taught the masses, He healed the blind, He fed the hungry, and freed the oppressed. He did this time and time again. There was no end to His compassion. There was nothing these people could do, no complaint they could give, no challenge they could offer, no stone they could throw that could diminish the love and the compassion Christ had on them.
Compassion comes in the strangest of places, under the most unexpected of circumstances, and that is what makes it so remarkably beautiful. It is defined by the way it reacts in love to hate. It responds to the most worldly of impulses with the most other-worldly of reactions. It is not something we can muster up from within us. Rather, it is something that is poured out on to us, that we then pour out onto others.
“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19 BLB
Christ had that very same compassion He had on the crowds on us before we accepted Him. We wandered around like sheep without a shepherd, we only came to Him for our needs and desires, and we picked up stones to stone Him time and time again until He reached down, saw us in all of our pain and lostness, healed our blindness, and called us to Himself. And now we, as His witnesses here on earth, are called to have that same compassion for others.
This is not a task that comes easy; especially for those who find themselves called into a position where they are the ones being asked to shepherd the flock. All too often, the first thing we do when we see an unhappy crowd is to do our best to steer clear of it, not take compassion on it. Yet this is precisely what Jesus calls us to do: to love the seemingly unlovable. Not because it is easy, not because it won’t hurt, but because it demonstrates real, true, sacrificial love. Love that defies understanding. Love that can only come from God alone. We are called to step into this mess of humanity we find all around us, not to flinch when it hates us, to reach out in love, and, through all of that, guide them to the Shepherd that will ultimately heal their infirmities.
That is what compassion is and that is what makes it something worth showing. I hope and pray that we can all find and reflect that compassion because in that God will be undeniably glorified.
With the unrelenting love found in Christ,
“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.”
Matthew 20:34 NIV