“Put on therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion” (Colossians 3:12).
The word heart in this verse (Greek, splanchnon) properly denotes the physical organs of the intestines. It is actually translated “bowels” in Acts 1:18 where it says of Judas – “he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out”. It is translated “tender” in Luke 1:78: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us”. Vine says that the bowels were regarded variously as the centre of either violent passions or tender affections. It comes from a verb meaning to be moved as to one’s inwards, to be moved with compassion, to yearn with compassion. The verb is not a word describing any ordinary pity or compassion but an emotion which moves a man to the very depths of his being. The verb is confined in the New Testament to the Synoptic gospels and, except for three occurrences in the parables (Matthew 18:27; Luke 15:20; Luke 10:33), is used only of the Lord Jesus.
i) on seeing the crowd like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)
ii) on seeing the crowd hungry in the desert (Matthew 14:14; 15:32)
iii) of the leper (Mark 1:41)
iv) of the two blind men (Matthew 20:34)
v) on meeting the widow of Nain (Luke 7:13)
vi) the appeal of the man that Jesus should have compassion on his son (Mark 9:22)
In the story of the healing of a leper in Mark 1 we are told of the spring from which all Christ’s healing power flowed. He was “moved with compassion”. Mere words are sometimes inadequate to convey the true depth of meaning, and a closer scrutiny is beneficial. What did Jesus see as this outcast approached Him? It would seem that the leprosy had reached a severe stage in the man. Luke (chapter 5) describes him as being “full of leprosy”. That, coming from the Spirit-directed pen of the physician, Luke, and the fact that this leper was allowed to come near to Jesus, suggests that he was in an advanced but uncontagious stage. That, however, would be of little consolation, for the death sentence hung over him.
Later ten lepers stood at a distance and cried out. They were unclean lepers and, being at the contagious stage, had to be segregated. This man was in the middle of a crowd but it was a crowd that loathed him. He was still unwanted though free to mingle with the thronging crowd. He came, in this state of loneliness, unwanted, helpless, of no use to society. Jesus saw, knew and felt all that and was moved with compassion. He did not recoil in pity or loathing, but “He stretched forth His hand, and touched him”. There had come from that pitiable, shunned leper the plaintive cry, “If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean”. There was no doubting His willingness. “I will; be thou made clean His leprosy was instantly cleansed” (Mark 1:40-42).
Dorothy Clarke Wilson in her book, “Ten Fingers for God”, describes how a desperate leper named Sadagopan (but known as Sadan) sought help from Dr. Paul Brand. His necessary journey was not a pleasant one. “It was a hot day. Sadan was tired, his clothes rumpled, the dust of the four-mile journey ground into his pores. By the time he reached the college grounds the discharge from his ulcerated feet, seeping through the bandages, was leaving wet marks where he walked. Outside the entrance to the college office building he met a sweet-faced woman who, someone had told him, was Mrs. Paul Brand.
‘Pardon me’, he approached diffidently, careful from long experience not to step too close, ‘I am looking for Dr. Brand’. The woman did not draw away, though Sadan was sure she had noticed his hands and his feet. She explained that Dr. Brand was away on a trip, but he would be back in a day or two, if Sadan would like to find a place to stay in Vellore and return tomorrow. He tried not to show his overwhelming disappointment. Then as he turned hopelessly away, she called him back. ‘You can find some place to stay, can’t you?’ Turning again, he found that she had moved towards him, her blue eyes looking straight into his face.
And suddenly Sadan wanted to cry. For years no woman had looked at him like that, not with fear or revulsion; or even pity, but with concern as if she really cared for him like another human being. He could scarcely believe what followed. She took him home with her. She made him a comfortable bed on the verandah. She brought him food and sat and talked with him. He stayed there for three days, feeling wanted, respected, yes even loved like a human being. When Dr. Brand returned he went straight to Sadan although it was late at night. He promised to help to correct some of the disfigurement.
‘Sleep well now’ the doctor said, and put his arm round the young man’s shoulders. And for the first time in years, Sadan did sleep well, not only because in his hopelessness he had found hope, but even more because in his friendlessness he had found friends. He had been treated like a man again”.
The incident, a true one, is related to give us some insight into the leper’s pathetic plight and his returning sense of self-esteem at being touched lovingly and treated with compassion. “And being moved with compassion, He stretched forth His hand, and touched him, and said unto him, I will; be thou made clean”.
In the spirit of our Master let us respond to the exhortation in Colossians 3:12 “Put on therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion”.