There is a verse from Matthew's Gospel that I got to thinking about the other day for some reason, and I couldn't stop pondering it for a few days.
Things like that happen to me from time to time, as I have shared here before. I used to feel weird about it, but I've grown to like that I get these things in my head sometimes that I can't stop thinking about until I write about it.
So anyway, this verse or a fraction of the verse kept running through my head, so I looked it up to see the whole thing in its context. I wasn't sure where to find the verse. I had to look it up based on the fragment I kept repeating.
Here's the whole thing:
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36, NIV)
There's something about that verse that speaks to me. The Greek word interpreted as compassion denotes an emotion far more profound than its English counterpart. Translated from Greek, it means: "feeling in one's bowels" or "a gut-wrenching feeling."
Jesus saw the crowds of people gathered around him and had such gut-wrenching compassion for them that it was painful for him to feel it.
The people in question were exploited on all sides by their Roman overlords, corrupt politicians and rulers, and even their religious leaders. Their lives were always hanging in the balance. They lived in the dread of angering God and receiving Divine retribution.
And Jesus loved them amid their sorrow because he felt it, too. The suffering the people endured was also suffering he had known.
I once read an excellent line from Thich Nhat Hahn's book Coming Home:
If you have not suffered, if you don't see the suffering of people or other living beings, you would not have love in you nor would you understand what it is to love.
It's hard for those who desire to follow Jesus to imagine him suffering.
We want to sanitize his life and ministry, focusing on concepts of perfection and sinlessness that have been handed down to us for generations by scores of theologians who lack the imagination to truly affirm Christ's humanity.
But it's Christ's humanity that makes the connections between the Divine and us. Because Jesus Christ knew what it was like to suffer, he could feel that gut-wrenching compassion in a truly human way.
We rightly can't imagine the depths of Divine love, grace, and mercy. Still, we can understand what it means to have gut-wrenching compassion for those who suffer, having experienced suffering ourselves.
This is why that verse is so meaningful to me. It speaks to an intimacy between God and us because Jesus embodied the universal and eternal Christ who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things (including us) live, move and have our being.
May you take heart today with the knowledge that God's knowledge of your suffering and struggles is intimate, gut-wrenching, and, most of all, known. May this knowledge give you the courage to turn your suffering into feelings of compassion, love, and grace.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.