Monday, January 07, 2008

An Expression of Compassion

There is a phrase used only of Jesus in the NT to describe moments when he was deeply moved by the human condition. In the Gospels it says Jesus was “moved with compassion.” In many places it represents the moment where Christ turns to heal an individual. In one interesting case, it moved Christ to teach all day long.

In Mark 6:34, he and his disciples are surrounded by a large crowd of people. When Jesus sees them Mark says he had compassion on them, saw them as sheep without a shepherd, and taught them many things. All day long.

I am fascinated by this display. How did Jesus’ compassion reveal itself when he was faced with a motley group of people with empty stomachs mixed motives for searching him out? (John 6:15 says some of them were political zealots.) He taught them for a very long time. Then he broke the bread and miraculously fed over 5,000 people.

A reoccurring theme in Mark is that before the bellies are filled, before the healings and exorcisms take place, Jesus teaches people about the Kingdom of God. What good does it do to perform the miraculous or correct social conditions before people understand the who and the why?

One of the first arguments Dallas Willard makes in his book, Renovation of the Heart, is that the “Jesus revolution” is not primarily about correcting institutions or organizations, but is a matter of character change. We live from our hearts, he says, and when those hearts are formed in the right way, we begin to make real headway in the human condition.

Another theme, rising again in emergent circles, is that the “Jesus revolution” is primarily about social justice, filling bellies, and affecting institutional change. That would not be a problem (after all, Jesus did feed the 5,000), but given the emergent proclivity to avoid the kinds of things that Jesus taught, I am not sure they have the stick by the right end. And what did Jesus teach? Mark is quite clear, if not minimalist, on this point: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).

I think Mark agrees with Willard and the view that first and foremost hearts and lives ought to be formed to the truths of the Gospel before the rest of the “revolution” can make real sense.

I love Mark 6:34. It is a genuine expression of Christ-like compassion to teach people the truths of the Kingdom of God, even if it takes a very long time.


Eric "the" Lind said...

How true about the incorrectness of the view that Jesus is all about fixing the woes of the human body. Jesus was the Bread of Life. What good is it if your body is fed but your spirit is starving? Conversely, James tells us that it's equally worthless to speak about spiritual food and ignore physical food. We must take care of both to be properly healthy.

Arukiyomi said...

AFAIK, every single time Jesus is described as being moved with compassion, he performs a miracle.

Is that right?

OPM said...

Wow! Great blog - I needed that. Was just in a conversation with a friend about the whole emergent church, seeker church, and the church we all grew up with.

I believe there is a spiritual tension between them all -- it doesn't have to be a bad tension -- but the tension is a must if we are to maintain our rich heritage (in all of church history) and yet effectively reach this generation with the Gospel. (Sometimes hard -- difficult -- and even hostile tensions -- yet good all the same). We need to be very practical in our approach and, at the same time, spirit-led. The pitfalls are out there -- "emergent" can (at times) go too far in efforts to not be "churchy" and neglect the "spiritual" aspect to humanity in the name of social justice -- "seeker" can (at times) exclude the Gospel itself from their preaching in efforts to be relevant -- and our Church of old can (at times) get so caught up in tradition and ritual that they fail to see that our God is continually moving.

I,like Moses of old, want to go forward -- but not without His Presence.

Chad said...

It saddens me to see Christians who are so hardened that they don't laugh or, like Jesus, display the same deep emotions he did. It really is about character. These passages always fascinated me as well.

Btw, under you apologetics Aggregator is no longer active, I'm afraid. I dropped blogspot.

Great post!

Shaun Connell said...

Well said. I want to be part of the Jesus Revolution, but, unfortunately, I find their focus so often on political things, and the increase in the use of political force that I find it almost surreal.

Jesus was about social justice -- through the means of individuals, not of state action. :)