“And being moved with compassion, He stretched forth His hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou made clean” (Mark 1:41).
The time had come in the mission of the Lord Jesus when it was necessary to appoint fellow-workers. The reason for such appointments is revealed in this passage. From the human point of view the Lord could not do all that needed to be done. He had been teaching, preaching, healing but now He must have some who would work with Him in the prosecution of His task. “MUST” is the operative word. It was vital that He had fellow labourers, yes, labourers. Why? Why not do just what He could and leave the rest of the people alone? Why care for them? The answer is given here, “He was moved with compassion”. We have no claim on God, there is nothing deserving about us. Our salvation is due to His compassion. God said, according to Hosea, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” (Hosea 11:8). It was divine love which inspired that question. Why care for mankind, why not leave them alone to the ravening wolves? The answer is here love and compassion prompted His provision of salvation.
“He was moved with compassion”. “That,” said Campbell Morgan, “is just a simple lattice-window made up of crossing human words. Look through it and you will see the flaming glory of the infinite love of the infinite God. You will see the birthplace of everything that makes for the uplifting of man”. What Matthew, by the Spirit, is telling us is that this Man Christ Jesus went into towns and villages and the people He saw there made the whole of His inner physical self move and burn with love. We know a little of this ourselves for in certain circumstances of worry, pain, suffering or joy we feel the whole of our physical selves stirred to feel the same sentiments. “He was moved with compassion”. He was moved to the agony of the physical by the pain of the spiritual.
The very heart of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is disclosed here. He felt at one with all their pain and suffering. This feeling of atonement found its ultimate expression at the cross but it is in beautiful evidence here as in other places in the gospels. The leper, experiencing pain and isolation, found in Him One who truly felt all the extent of that suffering and loneliness. He could not look at this leaderless crowd without sharing their weakness and lostness. With the mourning widow He experienced her deep sense of grief and loss. He understood the lonely blackness of the blind beggars and not only understood it but felt physically for their restricting affliction. He came so intimately into comradeship and sympathy with human pain that its pain was His pain. We should never think that this word compassion means mere pity. It goes far deeper than that. This multitude was sick, was unprotected and was exposed to danger. Their sad need and danger were His too. He knew them intensely and was deeply moved by them. That is compassion, and it issued in action which led Him as the true Shepherd to both feed and protect these sheep.
The words used to describe these people are graphic words which need amplification if they are to be properly understood. The word “distressed” in Matthew 9:36 means primarily “to skin, to flay, then to rend; hence to vex, trouble, annoy”. That was how the Lord saw this crowd of people. In the same sense the word “scattered” means “to throw, cast, hurl, be cast down, to be prostrate” (Vine). Of the same word, Mr. Vine says elsewhere, it “denotes to throw with a sudden motion, to jerk, cast forth”. The word is used of what the demon did to the man as described in Luke 4:35 – “and when the demon had thrown him down”.
The Lord’s view of the people was not superficial. He saw their actual condition. “They were distressed, fleeced, lacerated by the fleecing, scattered, flung, tossed by violence. In these words we have the picture of sheep departed from the fold, into the midst of wolves; they are seen with their fleece torn, half dead, bleeding from wounds and fainting”. It was in this way that the Lord saw these people and He came to do what their own shepherds had failed to do, to feed and protect. That work of shepherding would bring Him face to face with the enemy of the sheep, the devil, variously portrayed in Scripture as the thief, the wolf and the lion. He would not shrink from the ultimate sacrifice required of the compassionate Shepherd. He was the Good Shepherd and “the Good Shepherd layeth down His life for the sheep”.
Compassion does not stop at the deep sharing of circumstances, but it issues in helpful action. Two quotations from the gospels will serve to show how the Lord’s compassion resulted in giving and more giving. “He came forth, and saw a great multitude, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. And when even was come … He commanded the multitudes to sit down … and He took … blessed … brake and gave … and they did all eat, and were filled” (Matthew 14:14-20). Then of the Samaritan (a picture of the Lord Jesus), “he was moved with compassion, and came to him, and bound up his wounds… and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And … he took out two pence, and gave them to the host … and whatsoever thou spendest more, I … will repay thee” (Luke 10:34,35).
We must not forget that the whole purpose of examining these excellencies of the Lord is that they should be assimilated into our own lives. As we see the Lord’s fellow feeling for those He met, may we feel something of that active, compassionate love.
With a soul blood-bought and a heart aglow,
Redeemed of the Lord and free,
I ask as I pass down the busy street
Is it only a crowd I see?
Do I lift my eyes with a careless gaze
That pierces no deep down woe?
Have I nought to give to the teeming throng
Of the wealth of love I know?
Let me look at the crowd as my Saviour did,
Till mine eyes with tears grow dim.
Let me look till I pity the wandering sheep,
And love them for love of Him.
Dear Lord I ask for eyes that see
Deep down to the world’s sore need,
I ask for a love that holds not back
That pours out itself in deed.
I want a passionate power of prayer
That yearns for the great crowd’s soul,
I want to go ‘mong fainting sheep
And tell them my Lord makes whole.