When have you needed God’s compassion?
Movie quiz: Can you name the film released in 2004 that received three Academy Award nominations? Extremely bloody and violent, it did very well at the box office, grossing over $600 million worldwide. It remains the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history.
Answer: The Passion of the Christ, written and directed by Mel Gibson. The movie portrays the life and death of Jesus, in particular his last 12 hours. The scenes of Jesus being flogged and crucified are very hard to watch.
The word “passion” comes from the Latin word passio, which means “suffering.” We sometimes forget this when we speak of romantic passion, or the passion that someone has for a hobby. The root of the word passion is suffering, which was made very clear in the Gibson movie.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that when Jesus encountered a large crowd, “he had compassion on them” (Mark 6:34). This verse comes from the time when Jesus was performing his ministry in the Galilee region. If I were to make a movie about this time period, I would call it The Compassion of the Christ. Not Passion, but Com-passion.
Compassion is such an important word in Scripture, and it doesn’t take long to figure out what it means. Passio means “suffering” and the prefix com means “with.” Put the two together and you get “with suffering” or “suffering with.” Jesus shows compassion towards people, which means that he “suffers with” them.
So does God. “Like a parent feels compassion for their children,” says Psalm 103, “that’s how the LORD feels compassion for those who honor him. Because God knows how we’re made, God remembers we’re just dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). Like a good parent, God suffers with God’s children, knowing that we are weak and fallible creatures of dust.
God shows compassion by doing “justice for all who are oppressed” (verse 6), working to connect people with one another in right relationships. God does not rush to judgment, but “is compassionate and merciful, very patient, and full of faithful love” (verse 8). Most of all, the Lord “doesn’t deal with us according to our sin or repay us according to our wrongdoing” (verse 10). Instead, God compassionately forgives us, removing our sin from us as “far as east is from west” (verse 12).
The root of the word passion is suffering, and the movie The Passion of the Christ showed the suffering that Jesus was willing to endure in order to bring us forgiveness and new life. But we should never forget that the passion of the Christ is grounded in the compassion of God. Our Lord is willing to suffer with us, and to reach out to us in faithful love to remove our sins from us.
Compassionate Lord, thank you for loving me as your child and offering me forgiveness. Amen.