In Mark 6, we have great insight into the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ for those following him. Most followed on foot, taking the long way around the sea of Galilee from Capernaum.
The text says they hurried on foot; the original is stronger yet. So eager were they to find the time and space to spend with Jesus– so eager were they to hear the message of grace and hope– they ran. They ran so hard that they arrived there ahead of Jesus and ahead of the disciples! Hearts pounding, gasping for breath, it was little to them because they wanted to hear the message of salvation.
Notwithstanding the extreme fatigue of our Lord and his disciples, as they arrived, they were greeted by all those people who had gathered ahead of them. Rather than put the boat back out onto the Sea of Galilee, and rather than say, “Let’s head out for a more secluded place,” Jesus’ reaction is different. He had compassion for the people. For they were like sheep without a shepherd.
In looking at the crowd at that moment, it was as in the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34, where the sheep of Israel were described as being scattered about, with no one to care for them; vulnerable, weak, lost and without hope of ever being found. The sheep, said Ezekiel in that passage, had become as prey, food for wild beasts.
There are a number of times when the Gospel shows Jesus as moved to the very tears of compassion for the human condition. The shortest verse in the Bible, John 11.35, is simply this: “Jesus wept.” When Jesus saw Mary and Martha weeping at the death of Lazarus, their brother, and the other people weeping at the death of Lazarus, he was moved to tears.
But there are other times in our Lord’s ministry that he was moved to tears also.
- Did he not shed tears during his agony in the garden?
- Did he not weep as he expressed the wish that he might be able to gather the people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings? (Luke 13.34)
- Did he not weep over Jerusalem as he expressed his desire that people might be receptive to the message of hope? (Luke 19::41)
- Did he not show the same divine compassion for the human condition as he commissioned the disciples to go out before him, proclaiming the message of salvation as in Matthew, chapter 9, “Pray the lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest, for harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
And does not our Lord weep still over the human condition?
- How could he not weep over the hunger of his children who will go to bed without food?
- How could he not weep at the spiritual famine that lays waste to our country—the famine of hearing and responding to the message of hope in the Gospel?
- How could he not weep where he sees indifference to the human condition?
- With the amount of hatred in the world, how could he not weep at the amount of animosity between people, races and nations?
- How could he who taught the vision of the kingdom not lament how very far indeed we are from that vision?
- How could he not weep who shed his blood for those who deny their need of God?
When I think about the compassion of our Lord Jesus, I find myself musing about two things. The first is: how we all expect to encounter that compassion for ourselves and for those whom we love. But the second is: how very unwilling we are or how difficult it is to show that compassion of Jesus towards others.
Of course, Jesus told a parable about that one too. It was the story about the fellow who owed his master a vast sum of money. The fellow threw himself on the mercy of his master. The master forgave him every last penny that was owed.
But what did the forgiven fellow do? He went out and found a fellow servant who owed him but a trifling sum. Seizing the fellow by the throat he demanded full payment and threw the fellow servant into prison until the last penny had been paid. He expected compassion, but was incapable of showing compassion. That is told in Matthew 18:23 f.
So many expect compassion, but have not yet learned the message of the gospel. Our master taught that the measure you give is the measure you get. If you wish to receive the compassion of Jesus, try practicing showing it to your brothers and sisters.