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Mark 6:30-34, Matthew 15:29-39, Matthew 20:29-34, Luke 15:11-24, Luke 7:11-15
Bob DeGray
June 13, 2010

Key Sentence

The compassion of Jesus calls us to compassion.


I. Compassion for Spiritual Needs (Mark 6:30-34)
II. Compassion for Physical Needs (Matthew 15:29-39)
III. Compassion for Individuals (Matthew 20:29-34)
IV. Compassion in Relationships (Luke 15:11-24)
V. Compassion for Grief (Luke 7:11-15)


In 312 A.D. famine and disease struck the Roman army in Egypt. Pachomius, a pagan soldier in that army, watched in amazement as people brought food to the afflicted men and bestowed help on those in need. Curious, Pachomius found out that these people were Christians. What kind of religion was it, he wondered, that could inspire such acts of generosity and humanity? He began to learn about this faith – and was on the road to conversion.

Compassion has characterized the Christian community from the very beginning. Tertullian, around A.D. 220, wrote in his Apology, his defense of the faith that the enemies of Christianity said “Look how they love one another.” He says “I shall at once go on, then, to point out the positive good of the Christian society.” He describes how Christians assemble to pray, even for the Roman emperor, and nourish their faith from the sacred writings.

He describes their giving “each puts in a small donation, only if he wants to and is able. . . . These gifts are, as it were, compassion’s bank account. They are not spent on drinking or eating, but to support poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and of old persons confined to the house; to benefit those in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church.”

“But it is mainly these deeds of noble love that lead many to disdain us. “See,” they say, “how they love one another – when they themselves live in mutual hatred. See how they are ready even to die for one another, when they would sooner put others to death.” It’s a challenge to live up to the history of our faith, to live today the compassion for which the church first became known.

In fact, of course, the history of that compassion goes back just a little further, to the founder himself. Jesus was often, always, moved by compassion. He showed compassion in every arena of life – to the hungry, the spiritually needy, the grieving, the ill. It is this compassion that calls us to compassion.

Before we pursue a number of specific examples, let me point out that this is the first of a series of sermons on the subject of compassionate community. We’re going to explore how Scripture calls us to compassion, to care for widows and orphans, the poor and the needy, the oppressed, and those tragically ignorant of the Gospel. We’ll also be looking at how these things are being debated in the contemporary church - which they are.

One of our ministry plan goals as a church this year is not just to become a stronger community, but a more compassionate one. God has laid on the hearts of several key leaders that our small groups need to move toward service and outreach. We want to encourage serving together, both within the church and in outreach that meets real needs and is a witness in our community.

So we start this series than with Jesus himself. His acts of compassion will be our guide as we seek to be compassionate. We’ll read each of these accounts fully, but focus our attention on his compassion and its application to our lives. The first text occurs shortly after Jesus had sent out the twelve to share the Good News. Mark 6:30-34 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." 32So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

33But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Although the word is not used in the first part of the text, notice that Jesus first has compassion on the disciples. Because of the success of their ministry and the popularity of Jesus, they are overwhelmed with busyness. And Jesus says to them, as I’m sure he tries to say to many of us “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

But even Jesus can’t always make that work: a huge crowd follows and meets them when they land their boat. Jesus could have said “go away, leave us alone,” but he doesn’t. Verse 34: “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” If you’ve listened to me for very long you know I love the Greek word that is translated ‘compassion,’ splanchnizomai. It literally means ‘his bowels were moved.’ Or I like to say ‘gut wrenching.’ You know this feeling: when some emotional development makes the pit of your stomach feel like you’ve just jumped off a cliff.

This is how Jesus often felt; it was how he felt when saw the crowd, saw their neediness, like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep are well known as stupid and helpless. Without a shepherd to guide and care for them they’ll die of hunger, of thirst, of falling off a cliff or just falling over. Sheep are literally too dumb to care for themselves. Being likened to sheep isn’t a compliment.

So Jesus responds to the needs of these helpless sheep by teaching them. And though we don’t know exactly what he taught here, we do know his teaching always had an extraordinary impact. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount we see a typical response: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority.” No doubt his compassion led him to see the specific needs of this crowd, whether that was to recognize the heart nature of true faith, or to look forward to the now-and-not-yet kingdom, or to come in humility into a redeeming relationship with a loving father. And so he taught in order to call others to faith, to himself and to his kingdom, to meet their spiritual needs.

And we know he wanted others to imitate that compassion. In Matthew 9 we once again read that Jesus had compassion on the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” But in Matthew 9 he turns to the disciples and says, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." He wants others to join him in this mission of bringing people into right relationship with him and with others – into His kingdom.

In the same way you and I are called to see and meet the needs of those around us. We are to be his eyes and his voice. His eyes: to see how helpless people are, how lost, how trapped in lies, how firmly on a road to self-destruction. His voice: telling of his love, calling them to a Spirit-given recognition of their sin, sharing the Good News of his death and resurrection, and calling them to saving dependence and faith, to growth and maturity as disciples.

Thus we are also called to compassionately point spiritually needy believers back to Jesus, teaching them to find his strength in their inability, his peace in their anxiety, his wisdom in their perplexity. We’re called to appropriately express this compassion no matter how a person expresses their sin. Can we be appropriately compassionate toward the addict, toward the sexually sinful, toward the selfish, toward the self-deceived, toward the angry, even toward the hypocrite or the judgmental? I believe we must, for each of these, in different and appropriate ways, needs the shepherd’s compassion.

But this is only one entry in the catalog of the compassion of Jesus that shapes and inspires our own. Consider Matthew 15:29-38: Jesus left and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

32Jesus 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." 33His disciples answered, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?" 34"How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish." 35He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children.

Once again, Jesus is involved in ministry to the crowds. This scene begins with his compassionate healing ministry to individuals. But he’s also compassionate toward the simple physical needs of the crowd, their hunger and thirst, the temporary impoverishment that threatened them. He says to his disciples: "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." What’s striking is the practical nature of this compassion: Jesus sees human need and meets it. He sees hunger and says “They may collapse on the way.”

Then he literally multiplies the small resources they do have, seven loaves and two fish, to meet the need he’s seen. In Matthew this is the second time he has fed a huge crowd. The first was primarily Jewish, while this one, on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, is probably mostly Gentile. This is also the second time the disciples have questioned whether their resources were enough: “Where can we get enough bread?” The implied answer is that if you invest your small resources in meeting need, Jesus will make the results great.

So if we want to imitate the compassion of Jesus, we will meet simple physical needs. Obviously these would include hunger, but it can go way beyond that. People need clean water, adequate clothing, a place to sleep, medical care, safety from attack or danger, and so on. We cannot ignore these things. Closest to home, this might involve simply bringing a meal to a family that is going through a medical or other personal crisis. It might mean keeping another family’s kids safe while the family deals with personal issues or even just schedule complications. At another level you can contribute to organizations that meet needs around the world: providing pure water or medical care or refuge. Then there is the crucial in-between place, the physical needs around us that are bigger than we can handle individually but too local, too individual to need an international organization.

This is where what I’m calling compassionate community comes into play. We get together to meet needs. Maybe our small group helps to meet the needs of a broken family, those who are effectively widows and orphans. Maybe a high school class fixes a house for a needy person. Or a LIFE action week goes and helps feed the homeless. Our district superintendant Bob Rowley always says ‘we’re better together’ and nowhere is this more true than in meeting physical needs. When Jesus says to the disciples ‘you feed them’ he’s saying you plural not you singular. We are called to compassion in community.

Jesus had compassion on the spiritual needs of the crowd, and their physical needs. He often expressed this compassion to individuals. Matthew 20:29-34 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" 31The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" 32Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. 33"Lord," they answered, "we want our sight." 34Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

This incident occurs just before Jesus’ triumphal entry, days before his crucifixion and resurrection. But despite the fact that he had set his face toward the world changing cross of Jerusalem, Jesus still has time for compassion. As he leaves Jericho there are two blind men sitting by the side of the road. They were presumably begging, as the other gospels tell us, though these other accounts focus on just one of the beggars.

Now I want you to think about these individuals in that culture. They were blind, which meant that they couldn’t do any of the things that brought income or honor in that culture. They couldn’t farm, they couldn’t herd livestock, they couldn’t read or write, they were barred by the Law of Moses from the priesthood, and given their circumstances they were probably ceremonially unclean as well, barred from all worship and even from simple human touch.

Given these disadvantages, it is likely your average blind beggar was unlovely: physically unwashed, probably malodorous, and psychologically scarred; deformed by a lifetime of rejection and poverty. I’ve chosen ‘unlovely’ very purposefully: I think it exposes a huge problem with our compassion. We tend to want to help the lovely and the lovable – the wide eyed orphan child in Africa, the playful elementary age children of Slovakia, or anyone who will respond positively. But it’s a lot harder to care for the unwashed or deformed, for the belligerent, for the person who keeps falling back into sin.

The crowd did not have compassion for these miserable beggars. When the blind men hear that Jesus is passing by, they begin to cry out “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” They have heard of the healing ministry and touch of the Lord Jesus. But the crowd tells them to hush; they are out of line; they have no right to his attention. This is a typical reaction to those considered unlovely in our eyes: get back in your box, stay out of sight, don’t be heard.

But Jesus hears. As they cry out for his mercy, he calls them to himself, and when he does so he’s calling them to participate in our community. He asks “What do you want me to do?” In cases of individual compassion, Jesus almost always asks if the person really wants to be healed. And then Jesus does what others would not do, he touches the unlovely and heals them. And Matthew tells us that when they received their sight these two, still clothed in the clothing of beggars, became his followers, part of the community of the redeemed, right next to the fishermen and zealots and tax collectors.

You and I are called to touch the unlovely, to show the compassion of Jesus, the mercy of the Son of David, to those who are hurting or helpless, to those who struggle emotionally, mentally, physically, to those who are sick or diseased, to those bound fast by sin, to those willing but unable to break free from it, to those who are blind and broken, lame and mute; in short to everyone around us, those unlovely in presentation or unlovely in heart.

We’re also to show compassion in relationships. Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son for many reasons, but I want you to listen to it this morning as a parable of relational compassion. Luke 15:11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

The son is right: because of his sin he is no longer worthy to be called his father’s son, or even one of his hired men. Sin separates, sin breaks relationships. Pride still damages families, selfishness and the pursuit of pleasure and self-interest are still characteristic, whether that leads to major break-up of a family, or simply to stress and distress, to arguing and complaining, to bitterness and lack of respect. In our small group we just finished the book ‘Sacred Marriage.’ The premise is that marriage is the union of one person who stumbles in many ways to another person who stumbles in many ways.

What can heal the relationships of sinful people? Compassion. What can restore? Compassion. What can sustain? Compassion. By the grace of God the son returns to his father. And by the grace of God the father, already waiting, already looking up the road, sees the son a long way off and is filled with compassion. He runs to the son; embraces the son, kisses the son; and when the son tries to take the place of slave in the relationship the father refuses to make him such: ‘my son has returned – we must celebrate.’ In the second half of the parable the same father goes compassionately out to the other son in the field, the son whose sin is hypocrisy and judgment and jealousy and hard-heartedness. The father reaches out in compassion to that son as well.

We are to show compassion in relationships. Why? Because we’re all broken; we all walk with a limp; we are all simply objects of God’s unbelievable mercy in Jesus. What right do we have to withhold mercy from those around us, especially from those who are our families? The only right we have is to imitate the compassion of Jesus, who, looking at Jerusalem, weeps over the hard-heartedness of those he loves. Then he goes ahead and pours himself out for them. Even hard relationships must be characterized by compassion.

Finally, one more episode in Jesus’ life: we are to have compassion on those who grieve. Luke 7:11-15 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out--the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.

13When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry." 14Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" 15The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

This week marks a grim anniversary for Trinity and especially for the Rask family. It was just a year ago that David Rask tragically took his own life, bringing inexpressible grief to all those who loved him and were close to him and to all who love the Rasks. And that grief continues. A year does not heal the grief of a mother or a father or a brother or a sister. There are still tears, mourning, crying pain.

But someone has compassion: Jesus has compassion. Jesus weeps. Jesus mourn. Isaiah says of him ‘surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows.’ The same compassion that reached out to the widow and touched her son did take hold of David even in his misery and despair, not to return him to this life, but to bring him into the safety of eternal life. The same compassion that touched the widow in her grief continues to reach out to all those who still grieve David’s loss, offering comfort and presence and eternal hope.

Because Jesus’ compassion is not limited to his healing, or to his feeding of the crowds, or even to teaching spiritual truth and calling people to the kingdom. Jesus compassion is most effectively expressed and most clearly seen in his self sacrificing death. Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

That’s compassion. When we see the compassion of Jesus, when we receive that love and mercy, we know that we are called to compassion as well.