But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
If there was anyone who ever lived who was above “feeling” for other people, it could have been Jesus. After all, He is the Word, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He could have just stayed above the fray of the challenges of sinful humanity.
Yet He chose otherwise! He experienced the challenges that humans face, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He learned obedience through His suffering, having been willing to humble Himself greatly in order to experience such things (Hebrews 5:7-9, Philippians 2:5-11). Therefore, He can relate to the challenges humans face, and, in fact, seeks to do so!
One constant feeling Jesus has toward people during His life is compassion. The word in English captures the essence of the idea: “feeling with” or “suffering with.” The word in Greek is even more explicit: it is the word splagchnizomai, which literally means “to be moved as to one’s bowels” (Thayer’s). Such a definition may sound bizarre: what does compassion have to do with the bowels?
Have you ever had a moment of great empathy or sympathy for another person? Perhaps you saw someone just like you in a terrible circumstance. Maybe you were watching television and they showed pictures of people starving or dying in a foreign land. It could have been one of many other situations. Regardless, when you had that feeling, where did you feel it? Likely it was a “gut feeling.” And since that’s where people tend to feel such things, ancient people thought that love and feeling originated in the bowels. Therefore, one feels compassion when one has a “gut connection” to another in his or her circumstance.
That is the feeling that Jesus had toward the multitudes and toward those in need of healing. Even though He was God, He felt the pain and suffering of the people in His gut. That feeling motivated Him to heal the sick and preach the good news to the poor. The feeling helped Him relate to others.
We, as disciples of Christ, should feel compassion toward our fellow man in his distress (Luke 10:33, Ephesians 4:32). If Jesus could humble Himself to the point of being able to feel the pain and suffering of others in Himself, we should certainly be able to have the same feeling toward our fellow sinners! Compassion transcends all the various attitudes and judgments that divide men from one another, for when we can feel in our gut for our fellow man, we have developed a strong connection with him. If we have allowed the pain and misery of this world to deaden our feelings toward our fellow man, we cannot truly imitate Christ!
If we can relate to our fellow man in his experience, we will have good motivation to take the next step and to work to strengthen, encourage, and support him (cf. Galatians 2:10, 6:10). Notice that the Good Samaritan was motivated to “love his neighbor as himself” on the basis of his compassion toward him (Luke 10:33). It is very hard to do good for those to whom we feel little to nothing. Yet, for those with whom we can relate on a personal and emotional level, it becomes much, much easier! This is why God has charged individuals to help one another, to reflect Christ’s love toward their fellow men (Galatians 6:10, James 1:27, Matthew 5:13-16). Without the personal contact, there can be little to no feeling!
If we are going to serve others as Christ has served us (Matthew 20:25-28), we must have compassion on our fellow man. We must be willing to feel what he feels, even when it is uncomfortable. When we have compassion on another, we are able to better relate to others and get beyond all the factors that seek to divide us from them. It will be much easier to do good and to love our neighbor as ourselves when we relate to our neighbor and are willing to show him compassion. As Jesus showed compassion to us, let us show compassion to others!
Ethan R. Longhenry