Compassion: an Antidote to Numbness


Jesus came to inaugurate God’s Kingdom here on earth. Until this happened, the ‘present age’ of sin and death reigned under the control of the Ruler of the World, the Prince of Lies, Satan the accuser. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, sin and death were defeated. Jesus had disarmed the powers and authorities (fallen systems of the then dominant powers) making a public spectacle of them, revealing clearly what they truly were; evil. (Col 2:15). Now, Satan could not accuse his followers and had absolutely nothing to say. Sin had been dealt with and death could not be imposed.

There was now a choice: the Kingdom of Light or the Kingdom of Darkness. You had to die to one to be born again into the other. You had to choose, for you could only serve one master.

In Matthew 935 Jesus observed the consequences of these powers and authorities on the powerless and called us to work amongst the system’s victims and demonstrate in loving actions what Heaven’s Kingdom looked like on earth.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Why were these people harassed and helpless? Where and who were their shepherds? They felt powerless and lost. They had been marginalised and oppressed by the dominant culture who regarded themselves as the righteous authorities. The authorities had become numb to the humanity of people who didn’t fit their mould or observe their rules and had abandoned them to be outsiders and judged them to be sinners. Jesus, through his teaching and life of loving acceptance had restored their humanity. His compassion for them shone as a light of hope with His promise that they would be accepted into an alternative loving community, which he called the Kingdom of Heaven. This was indeed good news to the poor.
Jesus described these people as God’s harvest field and directed his disciples to follow him there to work (Matt 25:31-46). Earlier, in Matthew 9, he had been condemned for his behaviour with these people. Jesus pointed out that he had come to those who recognised their ‘sickness’ and wanted to be healed. Those that didn’t recognise their own ‘illness’ (the hard -hearted and numb), wouldn’t recognise what he was doing. He said that the antidote to this numbness was to learn to be merciful and in so doing, recognise their own need for mercy and healing and give up their personal efforts to heal themselves through rule keeping and ritual. His disciples would be marked by their merciful compassion and those that responded to the ‘harvesters’ were the ones who recognised their own shortcomings and failings and sought healing through salvation.

Therefore, compassion which involves solidarity with the marginalised will constitute a radical criticism of the dominant culture that caused their rejection. Hurt and suffering is not to be ignored, accepted as normal and unavoidable, or a consequence of the sufferer’s own actions, but as abnormal and an unacceptable condition for true humanness. It certainly was not to be found in His Kingdom.
As disciples, we should recognise that often the norms (the values and thus social control) of the dominant culture are not primarily for the benefit of the people, but to accommodate and reinforce the norms of the dominant culture which is fallen and is controlled by the Prince of Lies, Satan. Otherwise these false norms would collapse and with it the power arrangement of the dominant culture.

Therefore compassion is not just an emotional response, but a public criticism that calls into question the assumptions and the numbness that the dominant culture promotes. Examples of these assumptions include the assertion that there must be winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, legal and illegal asylum seekers, the rich deserve their wealth but the poor bring it on themselves. Compassion makes visible the inequality and oppression of dominant culture’s ‘business as usual’ mode. For example, many of the huge corporations of today expect and promote numbness to the injustice they create that enables them to maximise their profits and power, but in so doing generate insecurity, unsafe conditions, exploitation, unfair pay, manipulation and lies, resulting in poverty, sickness, broken communities, environmental degradation, inequality, alienation and even wars.

Compassion is not just ‘good will’ but when acted upon challenges the systems, forces and ideologies that have produced division and suffering. This sort of compassionate action can provoke a violent reaction. Jesus embodied the suffering of the marginalised (the poor in spirit) by taking it onto his own person. In so doing, it was declared outside of the realm of ‘normal and acceptable’ and he was killed for it. (John 11:45-53).

The two most well know parables focus on the central role of compassion and acceptance in discipleship. The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son both reject the dominant culture’s rules as to who should be ‘in’ or ‘out’. Both show the compassionate and the gracious heart of the rescuer.

Jesus told his disciples to love one another like he had loved them in John 13:34. He said if we loved him, then we would obey what he taught; when we do, then God will demonstrate His love for us by dwelling in us and He and Jesus would make their home in us (John 14:23). Living compassionately is the expression of God’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves; love is a verb. If we are to truly reflect God’s love, it can only be by living by the values Jesus taught us. (Matt 5-7). So if we claim that Jesus lives in us then we must walk in the way Jesus did; 1 John 1:6. This means to live justly and do what is right, love mercy and compassion and walk humbly and faithfully with God; Micah 6:8 & Matt 23:23. Living this way is a social and thus political act that will challenge those systems that fail to reflect God’s values and character.
In living as Jesus did, we will always be aware of the needs of others, avoid the numbness to the needs of others this fallen world promotes and humbly serve them and in so doing demonstrate our love for our father. (Matt 7:12; Hos 6:6; Isa 1:15-17 & all of Isa 58; & Matt 25:31-46).

Written by Sweis Meijers


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