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Thinking on compassion and Jesus

The other day on the way to school, I was teaching my three-year-old son Edelweiss, the Rodgers and Hammerstein song sung twice by Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp in The Sound of Music (a favorite film of mine and my eight-year-old daughter). I’ve always found the song haunting and beautiful, perhaps because (as Wikipedia notes) von Trapp sings it during two significant moments in the film—when his love for his family is reawakened and as a defiant patriotic homage to Austria.

As I sang together with my son, I began to remember the scene when Captain von Trapp sang the song the second time in that immense music hall in front of a large audience of townsfolk as well as members of the Third Reich—both from Germany and his own Austria. He’s performing alone in a spotlight, looking out over the people and gradually is overcome by profound emotions. In the film, the Captain deeply loves and cares for Austria, and throughout the film displays frustration and dismay that his country’s leaders and some of his fellow countrymen are collaborating with the Third Reich. As he sings—looking over a people and a country for which he cares deeply and can no longer protect or defend—these emotions mix with sorrow and overwhelm him. His voice cracks and he can’t sing any longer.

As I thought about his compassion and sorrow for a whole people, I couldn’t help but think that this scene reflects some of the complexity and depth of compassion Jesus must have felt when contemplating God’s people:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:24 NIV)

Throughout his days, Jesus was often moved by a profound mixture of compassion, frustration and dismay at the lost-ness around him. He saw with the Father’s eyes, and he passionately and deeply longed to protect and bring God’s people into the safety and freedom of the Kingdom. And when that purpose was thwarted—be it by those who willingly rejected it, by those who tried to keep others from it or by those who just didn’t get it—Jesus didn’t hesitate to let his frustration or passion show.

Recently, I re-read John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. As he talks with her, she gradually begins to grasp who he is. If anyone represents the lost in Jesus’ day, it is the Samaritans—a group the Jews believed so profoundly mistaken in their beliefs that they were shunned and avoided like the plague. When the woman leaves to tell others about Jesus, his disciples come back but avoid the obvious (not only was he talking to a woman but a Samaritan woman) and instead start trying to get Jesus to eat something.

As I read along, I was struck by how Jesus doesn’t let them sidestep. He urgently slices right to the issue. He launches into those well-known words about the fields ripe for harvest—and I wonder if his voice wasn’t tinged with a mixture of frustration, admonition and longing for them to get it. You want to talk food? My food is doing the work of God, he tells his closest friends and disciples. Open your eyes! See with God’s eyes! Look around you! Oh, these people are so ripe for the Kingdom. Let’s get them under my wings. Let’s bring them home. (My paraphrase, John 4:34-38).

And then he does it. The woman brings the townsfolk back with her and Jesus spends two days more in that forbidden place, tilling soil and watering and reaping lives into the Kingdom—what he came to do.

Sometimes, this compassion of Jesus overwhelms him. One time in particular—as he approaches the tomb of Lazarus—this compassion, like that of von Trapp, overcomes him with deep, powerful emotion. This time, Jesus’ compassion—mixed with anger and sorrow—literally makes him weep (John 11). I buy into the idea that deep within Jesus’ sobs is a frustrated longing for a people that just don’t get who he is, what he can do, and the life that stands right before their eyes. He longs to deliver them, yet they just don’t get it. How that must have made his heart ache beyond comprehension.

Whether it was his friends, a Samaritan village, or Jerusalem—the symbol of the people he came to save—Jesus aches with the deepest of concern and love. And that deep overwhelming compassion continues today because everyone we encounter, brush by, talk with, wave to, and pass by along our way are the ones Jesus longs for. When we ask for his heart, his ways and his way of thinking, we will start to see those wide fields that lay before us. Like Jesus, we’ll find ourselves broken hearted and longing for the harvest. And, like Jesus, there will be moments when our hearts break to the point of overwhelming yearning to see all gathered under the wings of God.

That’s what happens when you ask God to give you eyes like his and a heart like his. He’ll give it to you.

(Image: Sound of Music screenshot copyrighted by Twentieth Century Fox via DVDReviewer; Jerusalem, Wikipedia Commons; The Woman of Samaria by William Dyce, public domain; Vincent van Gogh’s Wheat Field, public domain, via Wikipedia)



Quoting this one and linking to you< Carmen. Sometimes it seems like you are inside my head. Maybe that's what happens when we start to see with His eyes and love with His heart!
Sally said…
Good reflection, I will have to watch the Sound of Music again.
Singing Owl said…
Beautiful post, and a little frightening as well. We don't stay the same when we truly seek His heart.