Clothed with Christlike Compassion
Yesterday (Sunday, December 30, 2018) I preached on Colossians 3:12-17, a beautiful passage in which Paul calls us to be ‘clothed’ with new clothing, the clothes of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love and peace, among other virtues. I also challenged us to take a look at the life of Christ each day this week and begin the practice of ‘putting on’ or clothing ourselves with one of the virtues or characteristics that we saw in Jesus as he lived and dwelt among us. Today, we’ll take a quick look at compassion, an excellent place to begin, as this characteristic is prominently featured in Jesus’ life.
Translating from Greek into English has proven over the years to be a difficult and imprecise task. For instance, when studying the word or idea of compassion, we encounter a number of Greek words - splagchnizomai, oiktirmos, eleeos and hilaskomai being the most common. And each of these Greek words can also be translated into a number of other English words, such as mercy, pity, tenderness or sensitivity. However, rather than allowing this to confuse us, we can, instead, view this wider ‘platform’ of words and meanings to help us recognize the importance of this idea, the characteristic or virtue, in the life of Christ and his people.
Take a few moments to read Mark 6:30-44. Try to place yourself inside the story. What do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste? As you imagine the scene, put yourself in the shoes of several different people: Jesus, a disciple, a member of the crowd, the child with the loaves and the fish. How do you experience this story? Now, before Jesus breaks a loaf or prayers a prayer, vs. 34 gives us a really important clue about how this story will unfold and why Jesus does what he does. ‘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.’ The story began with Jesus looking for a ‘quiet place’, tired and worn out from an exhausting stretch of healing and teaching in the previous days and weeks and still heavy from the loss of his friend John the Baptist. But when he saw this shepherdless rabble and knew they had traveled a long way just to be with him, he had compassion on them = splagchnizomai. This word is used over and over again in the Gospels to describe Jesus. Disease, death and disenfranchisement (see Matthew 20:34, Mark 1:41 and Luke 7:13 for examples) always moved Jesus to compassion. Do they move you in such a way?
This word splagchnizomai is kind of a Hebrew word forced into Greek. It is a word used literally hundreds of times to describe God’s character and activity on behalf of the poor, the pushed out, the paralyzed and the powerless. By exhibiting compassion on the downtrodden, Jesus is simply showing us who God is, in the clearest and most concrete way possible. Colossians 3:12 actually uses two of the words we mentioned above to add extra emphasis to our need to clothe ourselves with this Christlike character trait - oiktirmos and splagchnizomai, which could be translated ‘put on heartfelt compassion’. Will you try on this very important article of ‘clothing’ today? No better way to live out your faith than to don a Christ-created cloak of compassion!