The Compassion of Jesus

Harvard Medical School lists a number of ways people deal with stress, highlighting the tendency we all have to deal with stress in unhealthy ways, such as:

  • Watching endless hours of TV
  • Withdrawing from friends or partners or, conversely jumping into a frenzied social life to avoid facing problems
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Sleeping too much
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Lashing out at others in emotionally or physically violent outbursts
  • Taking up smoking or smoking more than usual
  • Taking prescription, over-the-counter or even illegal drugs[1]

Now, I don’t know what you do when things are busy and stressful, but Jesus’ response is markedly different.  Look at what we read in Matthew 14:14:

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14)

I love that phrase: “He had compassion on them…” (NIV). 

The Greek word for “compassion” here, σπλαγχνίζομαι (splanchnizomai), is a difficult word to translate because no one word entirely captures its range of meaning. It is a cognate of the word for “spleen” and has the idea of deep emotions coming from the deep places of one’s person, like the bowels or intestines. It conveys being deeply moved, pity, sympathy, compassion, and warmth toward others.[2]

Again and again, Jesus is moved with compassion by the situation of the crowd and those in need (Matthew 9:24; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34). This is Jesus’ typical response to humanity in need: compassion. Or, as one commentator, R. T. France, renders it: “His heart went out to them…”[3]

And this is, in my opinion, how you know that Jesus is the Messiah sent from God and not just some ordinary person. Worn out by grief, needs, and pressures, Jesus doesn’t check out with a cold beer and his buddies to watch Ted Lasso or the Packers game. He steps forward, open-hearted and full of compassion to those in need.

Praise God for the heart of Jesus the Messiah! 

Praise God for this revelation of the heart of God in Jesus of Nazareth. Praise God that we get this glimpse into what leads Jesus ultimately to the Cross. Why doesn’t Jesus pull back? 

Because His heart leads Him to act how God always acts toward humanity: to continually move forward into human need for healing and salvation. 

[1] “Watch out for unhealthy responses to stress,” Harvard Health Publishing, August 2, 2012,

[2] Moises Silva, ed., “σπλαγχνον,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Exegesis and Theology, 2nd ed., Volume 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 353.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 373.

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