What It Means to Be Human: Compassion

David Bast

Read: Matthew 9:35-38

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them. (v. 36)

Prometheus was a minor Greek deity who decided to help the starving human race by bringing them fire. When the other gods found out, they chained Prometheus to a rock, where his liver was torn out and eaten by an eagle every day—for eternity. The ancients didn’t think much of compassion. They saw it not as a virtue but a weakness.

Not so Jesus. Of all his qualities, none is more attractive—or more often displayed—than his compassion. The term compassion, like sympathy, means to “suffer with.” The Gospel writers frequently mention Jesus’ feelings for the sick or sorrowing. “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him” (a leper; Mark 1:41). “Jesus in pity touched their eyes” (two blind men; Matt. 20:34). “He had compassion on [the crowds] . . . and he healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14). “When Jesus saw her, his heart broke” (a widow whose only son had died; Luke 7:13 The Message).

But Jesus also had compassion for spiritual suffering. His heart went out to the crowds who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). God’s first reaction toward us isn’t anger but pity. What he feels for folks like you and me, who stumble along through life and suffer because of bad decisions and moral weakness, is compassion.

Our feeling compassion for others is what makes us human. God’s feeling it for us is what gives us hope. —David Bast

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your compassion.