THE DIVINE COMPASSION
When he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion to the depths of his being, for they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep who have no shepherd.
When Jesus saw the crowd of ordinary men and women, he was moved with compassion. The word which is used for moved with compassion (splangchnistheis, GSN4697) is the strongest word for pity in the Greek language. It is formed from the word splangchna (GSN4698), which means the bowels, and it describes the compassion which moves a man to the deepest depths of his being. In the gospels, apart from its use in some of the parables, it is used only of Jesus (Matt. 9:36; Matt. 14:14; Matt. 15:32; Matt. 20:34; Mk.1:41; Lk.7:13). When we study these passages, we are able to see the things which moved Jesus most of all.
(i) He was moved to compassion by the world’s pain.
He was moved with compassion for the sick (Matt. 14:14); for the blind (Matt. 20:34); for those in the grip of the demons (Mk.9:22). In all our afflictions he is afflicted. He could not see a sufferer but he longed to ease the pain.
(ii) He was moved to compassion by the world’s sorrow.
The sight of the widow at Nain, following the body of her son out to burial, moved his heart (Lk.7:13). He was filled with a great desire to wipe the tear from every eye.
(iii) He was moved to compassion by the world’s hunger.
The sight of the tired and hungry crowds was a call upon his power (Matt. 15:32). No Christian can be content to have too much while others have too little.
(iv) He was moved to compassion by the world’s loneliness.
The sight of a leper, banished from the society of his fellow-men, living a life which was a living death of loneliness and universal abandonment, called forth his pity and his power (Mk.1:41).
(v) He was moved to compassion by the world’s bewilderment.
That is what moved Jesus on this occasion. The common people were desperately longing for God; and the Scribes and the Pharisees, the priests and the Sadducees, the pillars of orthodox religion of his day, had nothing to offer them. The orthodox teachers had neither guidance, nor comfort, nor strength to give. Milton, in Lycidas, describes almost savagely the religious leaders who have nothing to offer:
“Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold A sheep-hook, or have learnt aught else the least That to the faithful herdsman’s art belongs! … Their lean and flashy songs Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw, The hungry sheep took up and are not fed.”
The words that are used to describe the state of the common people are vivid words. The word that we have translated bewildered is skulmenoi (GSN4660; compare GSN4661). It can describe a corpse which is rayed and mangled; someone who is plundered by rapacious men, or vexed by those without pity, or treated with wanton insolence; someone who is utterly wearied by a journey which seems to know no end. The word that we have translated dejected is errimenoi. It means laid prostrate. It can describe a man prostrated with drink, or a man laid low with mortal wounds.
The Jewish leaders, who should have been giving men strength to live, were bewildering men with subtle arguments about the Law, which had no help and comfort in them. When they should have been helping men to stand upright, they were bowing them down under the intolerable weight of the Scribal Law. They were offering men a religion which was a handicap instead of a support. We must always remember that Christianity exists, not to discourage, but to encourage; not to weigh men down with burdens, but to lift them up with wings.
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