Questions and observations for discussion:
Compassion is a feeling and an attitude of the heart that manifests itself at different levels and is more-or-less predictable for certain relationships. A predictable manifestation of compassion is that of a father for his children. Jesus notes this in his rhetorical question about a father giving his child a serpent when asked for a fish, or a scorpion when asked for an egg (Luke 11:11). Some humans seem to have a capacity for compassion more than others. We feel sorry for the sick and the destitute. Some thinkers cynically suggest that this is often motivated by one’s secret relief that one does not share such conditions.
1. Is compassion merely a state of ‘feeling’ sorry for someone? How can one recognize compassion in someone else? In words? deeds? both?
Mat 9:36 records Jesus’ compassion for the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. This is a summary that closes a cycle of miracles in Matthew chapters 8-9 which takes compassion to a higher level.
2. What do we know about Jewish backgrounds that illustrate Jesus’ compassion as particularly remarkable in fact and the manner of his healing of the leper (Mat 8:1-4) and the Centurion’s servent (Mat 8:5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law (Mat 8:14), and the woman with an issue of blood (Mat 9:20-22)?
Paul captures the essence of divine compassion in a particularly striking passage in Rom 5:6-8:
6 While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man
— though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.
8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died
Just as Jesus contrasts a generally expected level of compassion by earthly fathers to their children to God’s limitless compassion, Paul contrasts a barely expected level of sacrificial compassion between human beings to God’s incredible compassion to the weak, sinners, indeed even enemies (Rom 5:10).
3. While the atonement provided by Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of divine compassion for us, in what way are we to emulate this compassion? In Mat 5:43-48 Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies in emulation of God. How is this possible? What does it mean? What is the benefit? What part does forgiveness play in this?
4. Finally we must ask, ‘What are the limits of compassion”? See Mat 18:21-22. Are there limits to God’s compassion? See Mat 18:23-35. What is the relation between compassion and judgment, the love and wrath of God? See Rom 1:24-28.