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24 September, 2004 7:34 PM


On Sunday I'm speaking at a church and I've been drawn to the idea of 'Compassion' as a topic. I'm not really sure why - I just can't get it out of my head. I'm particularly drawn to the story in Mark 6:30-44 - the Feeding of the 5000. Taking into consideration the context of this story I'm quite challenged by the response of Jesus to the hoards of people around him that day.

Jesus and his disciples have had a real roller coaster of a ride the previous few chapters - the highs of his calming the storm, healing the paralytic, bleeding woman, the raising of a young girl from the dead but also the lows of his time in Nazareth and the news of the death of John the Baptist.

It is no wonder in Mark 6:30 that Jesus suggests that they get away to a solitary place for a bit to get some rest. I'd be positively exhausted by that point - the introvert that I am - and to be confronted by a crowd of over 5000 at that solitary place would have probably tipped me right over the edge. I'd probably have either curled up in the fetal position and done some rocking back and forwards or just gotten straight back into the boat and kept sailing on. At the very most I would have grudgingly gotten out of the boat to do a few token healings and maybe tell a rote learned sermon - only to disappear immediately after.

I can't imagine 5000 people all showing up to see me - and not just to see me but wanting something from me - its pretty likely that these would have been needy and demanding people - you see thats who seemed to be attracted to Jesus. Some would have been asking for teaching, others healing, others blessings, other a touch, others trying to trick him. Quite honestly (and I'm a bit ashamed to say it) - its my worst nightmare.

But despite his own exhaustion and grief - Jesus reacts a little differently to my imagined reactions - and its his response to the needy hoards that surrounded him that sunny day (ok - I'm taking some poetic license - sunny days are always nicer for picnics).

'When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.' v34.

Compassion - sounds nice doesn't it. Makes one feel all warm and fuzzy. Memories flood my mind of laying sick in bed as a child and mum laying her cool hand on my head to comfort me in my distress. Compassion - nice.

The problem is that the word for compassion in Greek isn't really a nice warm and fuzzy feeling kind of word. 'Splanchna' is the little beast I'm referring to and (there is really no nice way to put this) it seems that the word probably had more to do with bowel movements than anything else. The verse in question could almost be translated:

bowels.jpg''When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, his stomach turned..... his bowels moved..... it was gut wrenching..... he was sick to his stomach....'

The reaction to the lost, bewildered, needy crowd before him that day was gut wrenching for Jesus. He was moved in a very deep - almost physical kind of way. Perhaps today we might say 'his heart ached'. Pretty intense stuff.

And its not just a one off experience for Jesus - it seems that he often has this tummy trouble - he has it when meeting two blind men, a leper, a mother grieving her child, a demon possessed man - to name just a few instances.

Interesting in Colossians 3:12 we see Paul endorses this kind of reaction to those in need around us but saying 'clothe yourself with Compassion'.

Doh! I was hoping this was just the kind of stuff Jesus did and that we could leave it at that. Alas poor Reader we cannot. Clothe yourself with compassion has something of intentionality about it.

I watched my wife prepare for work this morning as I lazed in bed attempting to wake up (I'm a bit slower off the mark than her) and I realized how much effort some people put into clothing themselves. Whilst I tend to just clothe myself with whatever is clean, close to hand and temperature appropriate 'V' has a wonderful way of carefully considering what she puts on.

Sometimes V's 'clothing' process can take 20 minutes (or more) as she lays out an outfit (often more than one) after considering not only the day's weather, but also her days schedule, what she's previously worn to work, the season's colors, matching shoes and accessories, what colleagues are likely to wear etc etc etc (ok, I might be exaggerating slightly - but you get my point - V is quite intentional about the clothing process).

This is the kind of image I have when I hear Paul's call to clothe ourselves in Compassion. Clothes don't just leap on our bodies - we consider what we wear - we have to put them on - its an intentional process. In the same way, something like compassion doesn't just accidently jump into our lives. It takes consideration, effort and intentionality to live in a way that causes your stomach to turn.

So how do we 'put on compassion' anyway? This is the question I've been pondering today. You see I think I'm a compassionate kind of guy most of the time. I feel a bit of a stomach flip when I watch the world news. I've written my fair share of cheques to a wide range of charities - I've even got a sponsor child! Hmmm....

Let me share four aspects of the way I see Jesus interacting with people that make me wonder if I really have any idea at all what compassion is.

1. Jesus went to places where he would encounter people with real needs. Strange how he kept bumping into the blind, paralyzed, leprer and dead. It hit me today that whilst perhaps there was a higher incidence of people with these types of afflictions in Jesus day that these were not the kind of people who are that mobile. Without wanting to make light of their predicament - it isn't that hard to avoid a blind, paralyzed or dead person. Lepers might have been a little harder to avoid - but they were generally kept away from the rest of the population. I suspect that Jesus didn't cross to the other side of the road when he saw needy people - in fact I suspect he may have made a beeline directly for them.

The day at the pool of bethesda comes to mind (John 5). This was a place where the sick went. It was an ancient hospital of sorts. What was Jesus doing in a place like that - did he just stumble upon it one day? I doubt it - Jesus hung out in places where compassion was actually needed.

So do we allow ourselves to go to such places? I know in my life it is pretty easy to avoid needy people. The choices we make each day can either put us in their path or not. Choices about who we will be friends with - where we will live - where we will socialize - what parts of the newspaper we'll read. Unless we're willing to go to these places we drastically decrease the ability we have to put on compassion.

2. Jesus really saw people - deeply. He didn't see people's problems but their potential. He had this way of looking at people and seeing deep into them. He saw them as people, not objects. He saw them as made in God's image not as failures. He didn't label people but saw into them in a deep way. He saw their true issues and needs - not just the ones on the surface that we often look at when we interact with others. He really saw people.

Again I think we often fail in this area too. You see one of the ways I (we?) cope with the needs of those around us is to see them as objects. Often we do this by labeling people - grouping them together and making gross generalizations about them. We think we know them because we've read about that type of person - we think we know their issues because we see the symptoms or some of their behavior - but do we really see them? Do we see their potential? Do we really see them as humans or do we cope with their neediness with a quick glance rather than a deep soul searching look.

3. Jesus allowed what he saw to impact how he felt. This is where the 'stomach turning' comes into it. We see Jesus react to situations and people with emotion. We see him weep, we see him angry, we see him fired up, we see him respond with pity. There was no keeping people at an arms length with Jesus - his response to people was heart felt.

Again I am confronted by this. Too often I think we keep people at an arms length. We disengage our emotions from the hurt and brokenness we see in the lives of other because we don't want to feel the pain that might result in being impacted by others. Perhaps its fear, perhaps its our own insecurities or disfunction - but often its just easier to be clinical and removed from people than to actually let our guard down a little.

4. Jesus allowed what he saw and felt to move him into action. In the situation in Mark 6 he responds first with words and teaching and then with food. At other times where we see the 'compassion' word feature to describe his response to people he's moved to heal, cast out demons, comfort, raise from the dead, touch and defend.

True compassion cannot remain an internalized feeling - it must work itself out and respond in some tangible way. Someone once said to me - 'compassion is a feeling of pity that causes one to want to help or show mercy.' I'd probably want to put it a little stronger than that - but its heading in the right direction.

If we actually get to the stage of responding to the needs of others (and more often than not I suspect I've already bought out of compassion in one of the earlier stages) this can be the place where it all just gets too hard. Sometimes there is a hopelessness that can paralyze us from responding, other times its fear, other times plain laziness. We also live in a world where its becoming more and more normal to pay someone else to respond to the needs of the world - whatever the case the temptation is often to leave the feelings we have as just feelings and not to respond.

So - this has turned into quite a rave - unexpected really - I got a little carried away. The question remains though - are we compassionate people? Do we allow ourselves to go to places where there are needy people - do we really see them - do we allow ourselves to be impacted by what we see - are we willing to be moved to action?



Nice art work. Are they yours?
Interestingly, the daily Bible reading plan today at Phil Baker's blog is Col 3, and we're discussing the differences between passion and compassion. Col3:5 in my version of Bible(NSAB) says passion, and verse 12 says compassion. passion in verse 5 actually causes God's wrath. This made me relate to the theme at Hillsong conference this year, which is "passionate". Should we be passionate or not? Or do I have some understanding problems with the word. I have a friend who came from US to the conference, she was full on passionate for the conference. Then after she went back to US, she fell into sin(passion sin). Which makes me wonder today, is there anything wrong with the word passionate?

Susan » 25 September, 2004 12:34 AM

no not my art - someone sent them to me for my little collection....thanks for the comment Susan.

Darren Rowse » 25 September, 2004 12:48 AM

Mate, all the best. Like Susan, I love the art - very evocative. Note to self - make sure breakast is at about 10.00am on Sunday morning... :-)

Paul » 25 September, 2004 8:15 AM

Appreciated your thoughts daz, just wondering what your thoughts were about finding the balance between being the compassionate person God calls us to be and knowing when not to be involved in someones' life or when it has the potential to be unhealthy? Is there a line? Or is the point that Jesus knew no such lines?

mel » 28 September, 2004 10:40 AM

Hi Mel, good comment. I've been thinking about that this week. It is a tough one. I'm a big believer in boundaries - however sometimes I think we can be a little too clinical in that approach and use them as an excuse. I guess it comes down to having some wisdom and discernment in the process.

Perhaps it is also a bit about life situation. For example a person working in an care/compassion environment or who finds themselves in situations where they are surrounded by need might need to take a little more care on the boundaries front than a person who doesn't. Not to say that this is always going to be the case, but those working in such environments can easily get overwhelmed by and burnt out by the need. They will not be much use no matter how compassionate they are if they do so.

It might also be a bit about personality type also. Some people are natural born helpers, rescuers etc. This is a wonderful quality however I know many of this type of person who fail to help themselves. Again this type of person might need to be a little more careful of boundaries than someone else who doesn't naturally find themselves entering into 'rescue mode'.

So yes - you're right - however I suspect that for many (most) of us we could do with a few less boundaries on the compassion front than more.

Darren Rowse » 28 September, 2004 11:04 AM

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