“And Jesus was moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36 14:14 etc)
It was a frequent response whenever Jesus saw someone sick or poor or struggling. “Moved” is the English translation, but the Greek is “splagkidzomai,” which denotes a stirring of the bowels or gut. This expressed the seat of emotions in the 1st Century world.
The nearest we get to it in modern English is to say that such and such an event “makes me sick.”
Jesus looked at certain situations and they made him sick. He felt that emotion in his guts. And I really believe that we are called to treat those who are suffering or on the margins with that same kind of gut-based compassion. When we encounter suffering–whether physical, emotional or spiritual, whether caused by sickness, or violence or abuse, whether by natural causes, an individual, society or even the church–we are called to be moved in the same transformative way.
We’re called to have compassion.
But what does that mean? It means to “suffer with” or “experience with.” Frederick Buechner said that “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”
Jesus reached for those on the margins. He moved beyond the socially acceptable and took his place with those who were shunned by polite society—the “unclean,” the lepers, the poor, the sick, the tax collectors, prostitutes, “sinners.” It was an intentional ministry to the marginalised.
To use one of Pope Francis’s terms it meant “accompanying” them. And that’s what Jesus did, after all.
I’m always struck by the little trio of stories in Luke 15, where the author puts together three stories that Jesus told about lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. Everything stopped until what was lost was recovered, because it was valuable, loved and sought-after. “The son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” It’s what he did! And he was “moved with compassion” because of that internal yearning motivation, that gut-wrenching spasm of love
If you told me that 5000 teenagers slept rough in Dublin each night, I would be terribly upset. If you told me one of them was my son, I couldn’t sleep or eat until I had found him. That’s the difference. Valuable, loved, sought after…. And my own, my beloved child. How could I do less than everything possible to put things right?
That’s how God feels about us.
That’s how he wants us to feel about broken people.
The stories in Luke 15 are prefaced with an odd little moment. Luke refers to the criticism of Jesus that was coming from the respectable people. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” That is to say, he was intentionally violating the social norms. He had a large following of moral outcasts who felt safe with him, who felt sheltered rather than judged. His identification with them was a central rather than a peripheral characteristic of the kingdom that he announced, so much so that his enemies dismissed him as a drunkard and a glutton!
When questioned why he befriended these “dirty” people, Jesus was unapologetic: ”It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
There’s a whole group of parables that emphasizes that God welcomes sinners. Sinners? Isn’t that a negative, judgemental term? It means the sick and the needy; it means those vulnerable in a world that prizes power and religious righteousness. Jesus says that these outcasts understood God better than the “insiders.”
It’s the Compassion Movement.