Unsettling Compassion

Mark 6:34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.

To set the scene, the disciples had each returned from their “mission trips” and then met with Jesus to tell him all about what had happened. That day, there was a constant coming and going of people, so much so that the disciples hadn’t even had a chance for a bite to eat! In kindness, Jesus told them to come away to a private place he knew to get some food and rest. Tired, hungry, and I’m sure glad to get some quiet time in a secluded place with just the guys, they grabbed a boat and left.

First of all, Jesus is incredible in his awareness of what these men needed. Real, felt, physical needs. Food. Rest. Quiet. He didn’t say, “Great job guys! Now let’s get back out there and help these people!”. He did not use people. He loved them. He knew weariness, He knew hunger, He knew thirst, He knew discouragement because He experienced all of it himself. His kindness toward these men was the kindness of The God Who Knows. God with us. Emmanuel.

But Jesus and his disciples didn’t get the Men’s Retreat they so desperately needed. At least not then, because somehow the word of their destination got out and, when they beached the boat at the remote cabin, they discovered a crowd waiting eagerly for them. I can imagine the bleak looks shared and sagging shoulders as their hearts fell in disappointment. If Jesus felt this way, however, it was immediately swept away by roaring floods of compassion.

Mark 6:34 can be literally understood as, “Coming ashore and seeing the large crowd, His gut wrenched with tender compassion because they were like little lambs with no shepherd. He began to teach them many things until it was quite late.”

Just sit quietly and digest that for a moment. The gut-wrenching tenderness of Jesus.

Oh, the unfathomable depths of the compassion of God for us! So much so, that even through His own weariness and hunger, seeing the lost standing there on the shore like so many helpless and lonely lambs provoked a visceral internal emotional reaction that compelled Him to gather them around Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks and teach them until it was quite late. He couldn’t not do it. The unsettling compassion of God will not allow inaction. Henri Nouwen says the Hebrew word for compassion is rachamim, which refers to the womb of Yaweh. He writes, “Compassion is such a deep, central and powerful emotion in Jesus that it can only be described as a movement in the womb of God.” The vulnerability of Jesus in this is staggering. In His deepest depths, Jesus was moved with compassion. The storehouses of God were opened to reveal what are the unimaginable quantities of deep, abiding, relentless tenderness for us.

Understanding the compassion God feels for me is the very first step to my compassion for others. But the second step isn’t compassion for others. The second step is being moved to compassion and kindness towards myself. I am hardest on myself in a way I would rarely be towards others. Being kind to my failures, shortcomings, silliness, and everything else about myself I don’t like is the bridge from the active compassion of Jesus toward me to my own actions of kindness and compassion to those around me. Seeing myself as Jesus sees me is part of abiding in Him. Am I being more righteous than God by treating myself with harshness while He treats me with kindness? A thousand times, No! The more you really know Jesus, the more you will understand who God is and the better you will treat yourself and, as a result, others. That is true freedom. The freedom to love.

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