Compassion: A Key to Living Like Jesus

I look back at my life and examine my first reaction to things, whether that’s with a parent, a friend, a girlfriend, a pastor, etc. My first reactions, either in my head or in my words, have not always been fantastic, I must admit. Especially when my expectations of what should have been said or done were not met. Whew, no telling what’s going to happen.

I remember one instance in particular recently when I thought someone was going to do something the way I had understood it, but instead they did something different. I lost it. I didn’t yell at the person, but I definitely got frustrated. It’s almost my natural reaction sometimes. And I hate that it’s that way! It shows my lack of patience and my lack of love for those people.

But it’s funny: oftentimes I do genuinely love the people, but they didn’t do what I wanted. Someone I trust recently told me this: “There’s no one that annoys you more than the person you love the most because you expect so much from them.” I find a lot of truth in that. And that annoyance comes from not getting your way or things not going how you expected them to.

As I’ve been reading Matthew, I’ve learned so much about Jesus and, as a by-product, learned how much I do not imitate Him as I probably should. I guess that’s what happens when you compare yourself to God. One area in particular I noticed today was how Jesus reacted to people who came to Him asking for help. Let’s look at two instances in Matthew 14-15 specifically.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

After Jesus heard of the execution of John the Baptist by King Herod, He “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). Clearly He needed some alone time, maybe to grieve or pray. Probably both. But people caught wind of it and, like people who hear a famous actor or athlete is chewing on a chicken sandwich at a local McDonald’s, they flocked to where He was.

So now Jesus, who’s just lost a very important person in His life and is probably still mourning, is surrounded by all these people who know Him because He’s famous. What does Jesus do? Verse 14: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

What’s His first reaction to seeing the people gathered on the shore? Compassion. He doesn’t want to ignore them because they’re sinful or they’re bothering Him in His time of mourning. He displayed “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others,” as Wikipedia defines compassion. He didn’t feel sorry for them and heal them because He felt bad – He loved them. He didn’t look for their flaws and tell them to change; He showed them compassion.

The rest of the section talks about how Jesus fed five thousand men, which doesn’t include the women and children that were there, with five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t send the people away when it got dark, He kept them there and fed them Himself.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

The lesser known of the two great feedings comes in Matthew 15. Jesus had spent three days on a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee healing people of all kinds of maladies. Verse 32: “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry lest they faint on the way.'”

The disciples asked Jesus what they would feed the people with, since they were in a “desolate place” (v. 33). With seven loaves of bread and a “few small fish,” Jesus fed four thousand men, plus women and children.

With what did Jesus see the crowd? Compassion, yet again. After three days of healing people, probably doing some teaching, but being around people, Jesus wasn’t tired of the people. He had compassion for them. He had “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” He loved them. He didn’t just care for their eternal soul; He cared for their physical needs as well, and spent a lot of time healing and feeding people on earth.

We Are a People Who Receive Compassion

The great tie-in here is that the Gospel is an act of compassion, just like these works of Christ but on a much larger scale. We are a people who, without a relationship with God, are hopeless, lost, without any profitable destiny. We are a people who need compassion. God is gracious to us and, in Christ, shows His compassion, His love.

There is a connection between compassion and love when it comes to God. God’s love is often displayed in acts of compassion, like Christ dying for us. 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” He saw that we did not have loved for Him, but He still loved us and sent Jesus to be the sacrifice, to be the substitution.

That’s some compassion. Greater love has no man than he who lays his life down for his friends, but even more so for his enemies. And no one has greater enemies than God does of us! That’s compassion!

So why is it so hard for us to show compassion like Christ? Well, we’re sinful. But we also think we’re entitled to certain things and to only interact with certain kinds of people, and only have certain kinds of things happen in our lives, and only do certain things wrong. So when things don’t go our way, we don’t show compassion. We rebel and we get angry and impatient.

But that is not how Jesus reacted to the crowds, and it’s not how God reacted to us who are His people! He loved us enough to provide a way for the relationship to be made new, restored, made whole!

Let us seek to imitate Christ. We will likely fail at this again and again, but it is worth working at, because in showing compassion we get to give glory to God, which is our life’s mission. And when you fail, remember the grace of God that is greater than all your sins. It’s a piece of His compassion you get to know on a daily basis.