Mark 1: what is compassion?

Reading this chapter I don’t feel like ‘compassion’ is something I major on.  I suppose I can do sympathy – feeling bad for a person’s state of affairs – but is compassion different to sympathy?  What is compassion?  In Mark 1 there are no punches pulled.  Mark skims through much of Jesus’ early ministry, opening with the simple sentence:

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

For Mark it is as simple as that.  There is no being left guessing, and that’s how he proceeds to write that first chapter, short accounts of Jesus’ life told simply.  Mark 1 brings the healing factor straight in too.  By the time I get to verse 40 Jesus has already driven out an evil spirit, Simon’s mother-in-law has been cured of her fever, and several others have raided where he was staying and gotten the same treatment.  Verses 40-42 bring in the incident of the leper though:

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said.  “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”

I can’t get over those three words ‘filled with compassion’.  The Greek word used for compassion here is ‘splanchnizomai’ which ties together the words compassion and pity.  But pity I often view with somewhat patronising connotations; to me it has a little bit of a demeaning sound.  But looking at what it actually means I think I’m mistaken.  Pity is more than viewing the suffering of another person and simply going, ‘shame’.  To pity someone, to be filled with compassion like Jesus, is to be filled with sorrow over the situation of another person.  That kind of emotion cuts deep.

Compassion is more than sympathetic emotion, feeling bad about someone having a hard time.  It is more than a patronising ‘oh that’s a pity’ that can be casually tossed towards the plight of another person.  It is a burning sorrow, a deep aching sadness.  But there’s more to it than that.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen these words applied to Jesus without action following on after it.  I’ve never seen a verse that has said, “Jesus was filled with compassion so he did nothing”.  Compassion may be an emotion but with Jesus it is always the precursor for action.

When was the last time I acted on compassion?

Maybe this is why I don’t think I major on compassion.  I read frequently about the problems around the world.  News of bomb blasts, famines, earthquakes and destruction are not new to me and after a while, after a period of inactivity in response to a problem a numbing effect begins to take place.  In my own community I am used to seeing the problems and I am used to letting other people be the solution.  I can call on any number of excuses:  I have no money, I have no time, they might not want my help, etc; but I don’t think that cuts it with God. 

How can I activate the compassion I feel?

And if I haven’t felt compassion towards another person in a while then something is seriously wrong with me.  If my lack of action comes from a place of simply not feeling sorrow over another’s suffering; then I need to invite God in.  I need more than just exposure to the suffering in front of me, I need my heart broken, softened, aligned so that it burns like God’s.

 
 
 
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One thought on “Mark 1: what is compassion?

  1. […] Bible Study brings up a good point, how does Compassion differ from Sympathy?  How does a Jewish point of view differ, read For the Love of Small Things. […]

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