Define Compassion

Matthew 15:29-39

We are reading our way through the Gospel According to Matthew. At this point in Matthew chapter 15, Jesus has been on the road with His disciples for over a year now spreading the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived. Along with this announcement Jesus brought miracles of healing the crippled, the blind and the sick. This was definitely Good News for those in need. 

However, for the leaders of the Jewish faith, it was considered scandalous.  In fact, the Pharisees were plotting how they could possibly get rid of Jesus and His band of merry men. Unfortunately for them because of His popularity with the people the religious leaders knew they would have to wait for an opportune moment or they would have an uprising on their hands. 

In the meantime, they may not be able to kill Jesus, but they were able to keep Him on the move. At this point in chapter 15, Jesus and His disciples had traveled to the Gentile center of Tyre and Sidon, in hopes to escape from the Jewish leaders and to rest from the pressure of the crowds seeking help. Surely in a pagan city center Jesus could have some obscurity. But as we discovered last week, a Canaanite woman recognized Jesus for who He was and boldly approached Him and refused to leave until He healed her daughter. 

This week we read that Jesus leaves the cities and walks back to the Sea of Galilee. Again, He was trying to withdraw and find some time for solace.  He made it to a small hill hoping to relax. 

Not going to happen. 

He no sooner sits down and a large crowd decides to bring their lame, their blind, their maimed, their mute and many others in need of healing and drops them at His feet.  These were the same deformities Jesus had healed many times before, except this time the people who came were from the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. They were from a region known as the Decapolis which was made up of predominantly Gentiles. They would have also been the lowest of the Gentiles known as heathens or semi-heathen. 

Matthew writes that, “He healed them all.” 


Didn’t Jesus just argue with the Canaanite woman that He had come for the Israelites first, and would not heal her daughter? Jesus was surely giving more than just crumbs from the table. 

We don’t read any details of this multitude of Gentiles having “faith” except for the fact that they believed He could heal. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have lugged their crippled and maimed friends up the hill.

Let’s not just read this and think, oh yeah, Jesus heals some more people. Matthew puts a lot more details in this explanation than just simply healing. Let me read from the Living Bible translation, 

What a spectacle it was! Those who hadn’t been able to say a word before were talking excitedly, and those with missing arms and legs had new ones; the crippled were walking and jumping around, and those who had been blind were gazing about them! 

Let me remind you, in the first century hospitals didn’t exist. 

Deformities and body malfunctions were considered a result of some sort of sin and a curse one had to bear. Jesus’ sitting on a hill just “healing” people left and right had to have been a spectacle to see. 

Were it not the creator of the universe who had performed such miracles, Jesus would have become the center of attention. Think about it. A man replaces the legs and arms of people! Front page news! Twitter would be going crazy! But read the next line,

The crowds just marveled and praised the God of Israel.

Jesus always drew attention to God the Father. In this Gentile region He turned their adoration to the God of Israel. In a small but significant manner, Jesus reminds those receiving grace and mercy that their gift of compassion came from the God of Israel, not some healing god created by humans. 

But from the God who created humans and had a plan for all of them, both Jew and Gentile to be saved. 

There must have been quite a few people to heal because in verse 32, Jesus reports that this crowd had been with Him for three days and they had run out of food to eat. 

The last time this happened, the disciples came to Jesus with the need of the Jewish crowd to eat. This time the crowd was Gentile and this suggests the compassion of the disciples has not yet stretched out towards people of other nationalities. Each of the disciples had been brought up in the Jewish faith. Since they were little they had been taught that there were two distinct types of people. Jewish, God’s chosen, and non-Jewish, goyim and never the twain should meet. It was not in their mindset to consider any other people group as equal. 

So it goes without saying that for the disciples to have compassion on a Gentile would have been a miracle in itself. 

Jesus seems to know this, because this time of the feeding of thousands He approaches the disciples with the need. Jesus did not want the thousands to leave without eating for fear they would faint on the way home. Ironically, the disciples respond with the question, verse 33,

“Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”

Hello, really? It hasn’t been that long since they managed to feed 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. How many miracles do the disciples have to experience to finally understand who Jesus is? 

That’s a fair question to ask each of us. 

How many times does Jesus have to meet our needs and carry us through difficulties before we go to Him first when things get rough? 

Why don’t we immediately trust Him to carry us through another difficulty? 

There is something about being human that much like the Pharisees we keep asking Jesus to give us the same sign before we truly believe. 

Or like the disciples, where our upbringing gets in the way of thinking like Jesus. 

In case you are thinking this could be a re-telling of the previous feeding of thousands, there are enough differences to distinguish the two. 

> There were a different number of people being fed. 

> They were in different locations; one was on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee and one was on the western shores.

> The disciples had a different supply of food when asked. 

> The disciples collected a different amount of baskets of food afterwards. 

There are some similarities. Jesus did the creation of the miracle and the disciples did the distribution of the food. Again, at the end, the disciples gather more, not less than what they started with and everyone was filled. They had enough to eat. This demonstrates that God provided out of His abundance. 

God continues to provide out of His abundance, and He continues to use His disciples to distribute. Unfortunately, His disciples continue to see with their traditions rather than with eyes of the God of heaven. 

The Jews of Jesus’ day would have been offended by the idea that Gentiles would ever be a part of a Messianic banquet. Yet when we go back to the Old Testament time we read how the prophets spoke of, “all nations” being a part of God’s plan. 

The disciples don’t catch on until well after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and lots of arguments. The New Testament is full of letters to the new Christian churches and how they were to accept the Gentiles. 

What about us today? Each of us has our own upbringing with our own set of prejudices. Sadly, much like the disciples we don’t recognize them. 

Until God asks us to do something for someone that fits into our prejudiced category. Remember Jonah? God told him to go to the Ninevites and Jonah thought God had to be crazy. Jonah’s prejudice landed him in the belly of a great fish.  

Here is the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of prejudice, 

“The belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.”

Jesus doesn’t look at humans that way. All through the Gospel According to Matthew we read how Jesus had compassion on humans. Those that were marginalized and those that were His disciples. 

Paul put it like this to the church of Galatia, 


There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this,

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Once we begin to regard people through the eyes of God and recognize those who are suffering we are viewing others with Jesus’ eyes of compassion. 

Yet, what is compassion?

Compassion International puts it like this:

“The origin of the word helps us grasp the true breadth and significance of compassion. In Latin, ‘compati’ means “suffer with.” Compassion means someone else’s heartbreak becomes your heartbreak. 

Another’s suffering becomes your suffering. True compassion changes the way we (think and) live.”

Jesus came to earth and turned the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, upside-down, in regards to how the Israelites had believed. Especially when it came to who was in and who was out.  

I think we could use another visit from Jesus today. 

Let’s pray.