A foundational teaching of the New Testament concerns the dual nature of Jesus Christ: He was both God and man, both divine and human. When Jesus manifests strong emotions His humanity is often cited—"Jesus is human like us." Yet many of those emotions—love, anger, compassion, patience—are divine traits as well as human. Compassion and mercy are often associated with God in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 13:17; 30:3; 1 Kings 8:50; Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 55:7).
Compassion literally means to "suffer together with." Therefore, it is closer to empathy than sympathy since it evokes in one person the same pain ("passion") as is felt by another. Said another way, compassion is when our heart breaks over the broken heart of another. And it is in Jesus that we find the ultimate expression of divine and human compassion.
When Jesus was teaching in the region of the Decapolis—10 cities east of the Jordan occupied primarily by Gentiles—a crowd of thousands had been following and listening for three days. There was no food available and Jesus knew the people were desperately hungry, prompting a compassionate response from Him (Mark 8:2). On another occasion, it was not physical, but spiritual, hunger that caused Jesus to be "moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). Whether Jew or Gentile, whether the need was physical or spiritual, Jesus identified with the pain and plight of others (Matthew 20:34).
The father of the prodigal child is often criticized for having compassion on his wayward son when he returned home (Luke 15:20). Yet where would we be if God, who that father represented in Jesus' parable, was not a God of compassion toward us? Like God Himself (James 5:11) we are to be full of compassion (Colossians 3:12). As well as rejoicing, we are to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).Back to Mark