Living the compassion of Jesus

The Compassion of Jesus (Part One)

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One morning I sat down with my Bible and began reading through the book of Mark, which is one of the accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. 

I had not even finished the first chapter in this book when a short passage stopped me and left me a bit confounded by what I had read. 

Three short verses.

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
— Mark 1

Seems like a normal "everyday" account of one of the countless miraculous works of Jesus, right? And that is how I had always processed this passage when I had read it previously. But this time - this time something stuck out to me that I had never noticed before. 

Three words: "Jesus was indignant." 

Previous to this short sentence, we are told that a man comes to Jesus with a great need. And right after these three words we are told that Jesus healed the man of the injustice known as leprosy. 

Yet, at least to me, that sentence in the middle didn't make sense. Jesus is presented with a need and meets that need, but then why does He get "indignant"?

In my mental dictionary, I defined indignant as frustrated, ticked off, and a little bit angry. 

And there are plenty of times in the Bible where Jesus is frustrated, ticked off, and a little bit angry - but He usually is flipping tables in those situations.

And there are plenty of times in the Bible where Jesus is frustrated, ticked off, and a little bit angry - but He usually is flipping tables in those situations.

So why are we told He was indignant in this situation?

That is the question that this short story left me with. So I dug down into these verses. 

What I learned is that not every translation of the Bible uses the phrase "Jesus was indignant" in this story. Some translations say that Jesus "was moved with compassion."

Now that makes more sense doesn't it?

Jesus faced a need, felt compassion, and addressed the need. 

But then why did my translation (along with a few others) say that Jesus was indignant?

As I dug deeper, that's when I learned something that has transformed my understanding of compassion - and the compassion of Jesus - over the last several years. 

The original Greek word (warning: brief nerd moment) for the word sometimes translated "indignant" and other times as "compassion" is this intimidating tongue-twister: splagchnizomai.

Now splagchnizomai (pronounced splänkh-nē'-zo-mī) means: "to be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion." (click here to learn more) During the time of Jesus, society understood our emotions to be based in the center part of our beings - our bowels - rather than our hearts. 

So when Jesus saw this man stricken with the terrible disease of leprosy, He was moved at the center of His being for this man. He was filled with righteous anger at the unjust situation this man was faced with. 

You've felt this before too haven't you? When you see something unjust around you or in the world, and feel this fire in your stomach that quickly spreads under your skin across the rest of your body. 

A righteous anger because: what is is not what should be

You can call it being indignant. You can name it compassion. 

Either way, when you begin to have that reaction to the injustices in the world - you are taking the first step in living out the compassion of Jesus. 

Because that is the feeling that Jesus had in the passage (and elsewhere as well). 

The compassion of Jesus is:

-righteous anger

-getting indignant at injustice

-being moved with compassion

-feeling a fire in your bowels

What situations, injustices, and systemic evils feel you with this compassion of Jesus? 

Comment below with what keeps you up at night and gets you up early in the morning. What do you want to see changed in the world. What do you want to help change in the world? 

Feeling the compassion of Jesus is an important first step, but living it out? That requires something more. 

And that's what we'll dive into in the second part of this discussion on the compassion of Jesus. 

I'll leave you with this for now:

Slow down throughout your day and week and see what in life and in the world moves you to feel the compassion of Jesus.