A blog comments the other day (different blog) said this regarding Jesus’ compassion:
Yes, Jesus was compassionate when confronted with a need, pausing to help the faithful (and in a few cases we know of, non-believers)…that was to show his authority and glory.
I will be direct about this: this is a highly misguided way to talk about Jesus’ compassion. You could perhaps try to parse it in a way that is technically accurate (maybe), yet it gives the completely wrong impression. Here are two problems.
First, it downplays the depth and nature of Jesus’ compassion. By reading this, you get the impression that compassion was just not a big deal for Jesus — that he only did it “to show his authority and glory.”
But in reality, the gospels often speak of Jesus has being motived by compassion (Matthew 9:36; John 15;12-13; Romans 5:15). It was not something Jesus did just to show his authority (and why would that matter for us, anyway, if his authority didn’t exist to be used for the good of people — that is, for compassionate purposes?). It was something he did because he cared. That’s the meaning of compassion, and it is not to be downplayed in the slightest.
And in relation to Jesus’ glory, his love and compassion are themselves a large part of his glory. In other words, his compassion is itself part of what makes him glorious. We know this because the Scriptures speak of God’s grace as the pinnacle of his glory (Romans 9:23; 1 John 4:8; Ephesians 1:6, “to the praise of his glorious grace“).
Further, the author speaks of Jesus simply “pausing” to help the faithful. This makes it sound like he didn’t give significant attention to it, or that it wasn’t a chief purpose of his mission. It was something he simply “paused” to do, while he was on to other more important things.
Instead, Jesus’ own theme verse for his ministry makes compassion the very center of his ministry (Matthew 9:12-13). Everything Jesus did — to the pinnacle of his ministry of going to the cross for our salvation — was motived by compassion. Compassion is central to Jesus’ heart and way of thinking.
Second, it downplays Jesus’ ministry to non-believers. The author says that there are only a few cases we know of where Jesus helped non-believers. This is a strange thing to say about the one said that he “came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
This way of thinking contributes to setting up walls against compassion. It makes it seem as though helping non-believers is not very important, because Jesus only did it a few times.
But in fact, Jesus helped unbelievers all the time. In a very real sense, every single person that Jesus helped was an unbeliever. The reason is that, even if they were already a believer when he physically helped them, that simply meant that his Spirit had first worked in them to bring them to faith.
And today, the gospel is going to all nations at his command, helping millions of unbelievers everywhere by bringing them to faith.
This issue is very important because it goes to the very heart of who Jesus is. I take issue with this commenter because I am seeing this thinking more and more, and it is a very subtle thing. Jesus is appealed to in order to almost justify a type of aloofness and separation from people’s real needs, in the name of “responsibility” or “authority.” It’s as though we think God wants boundaries more than he wants love — which is often messy.
Sometimes we even minimize Jesus’ compassion for the apparent sake of his glory. It’s as though we are afraid that acknowledging that Jesus was compassionate and loved people is going to diminish God-centeredness or something. Instead of allowing Jesus to challenge our own lack of empathy, we end up finding justification for it in him by coming to the gospels with our own preconceived notions.
This is not right, and it gives a wrong view of Jesus — which, in turn, stands in the way of people following him. Who could follow a Jesus who is not filled with compassion? We need more than that.
It is a great irony that people can miss this about the most compassionate person in all of history. And yet, it happens all the time.