Open your mind and heart as you read the passage of Scripture aloud and then again quietly to
yourself. Listen for God’s word to you.
William Barclay said of this passage: ‘It is not the Christian’s duty to discuss Christianity with others, so much as it is to show them what Christianity is.’ Jesus spent far more time healing the sick, feeding the hungry and comforting the hurting than He did talking about God. He lived His belief. His truth was Love.
The Greek word used to describe Jesus’ compassion in this passage is the strongest word for pity that exists. Apart from the occasional parable Jesus told, it is only used to describe the compassion of Jesus.
He was moved to such compassion by the world’s pain – sickness (Matthew 20:34), sorrow
(Luke 7:13), hunger (Matthew 15:32), loneliness (Mark 1:41) and their confusion, which was the
case in this passage. Men and women desperately longed God, but the established religious
leaders of the day could not help them. What they offered did not satisfy their need. They
themselves did not have the answers people sought. All they could do was burden people with
the law. But Christianity exists to encourage people not to weigh them down.
The Pharisees and religious leaders did not see the people’s worth. Jesus saw them as a harvest to
be gathered and saved. But this harvest could only be reaped if there were reapers to reap it.
Jesus needed people to be the reapers; to tell the good news; to reach out in love so lives are
touched. Jesus calls His followers to action. It is not enough here to pray or even to pay. Every Christ-follower who is physically able needs to serve Christ in some practical way so that people
hear and are saved.
Wesley’s view of Mercy
John Wesley believed that people meet Christ Himself when they serve and get to know those
who are suffering. Moving beyond their comfort zones serving others in Christ’s name opens
people’s hearts to the gift of grace. Holy habits are formed and grow stronger every time
someone serves Christ in this way so the fruits of the Spirit flourish in their lives (Galatians
5:22-23). Gradually the Christ-follower becomes more and more like Jesus and those who serve
with them and who are served begin to see a glimpse of Jesus within that person.
‘Works of mercy’ can be both individual and communal events. An individual work of mercy
involves visiting someone who is sick or in prison, feeding a hungry person or giving generously
when individual needs become apparent. Communal works of mercy work towards bringing
oppression or discrimination to an end, seeking justice and finding ways to help those members
of society who are poor (perhaps through education and empowerment as well as providing for
The social issues closest to Wesley’s heart were teaching, feeding and clothing poor children,
providing opportunities for employment, and visiting the sick. He was very aware of the dangers
of throwing money at a situation and he preached many sermons on the dangers of money. In one of these sermons, delivered in 1760 he laid down three guidelines:
•Gain all you can
•Save all you can
•Give all you can
He emphasized the latter by promoting schemes to boost employment opportunities, thus
restoring dignity and independence to those who had previously been reliant on charity. Wesley
established free medical clinics in London, Newcastle and Bristol and promoted the ministry of
visiting the sick. He was also interested in the prevention of disease and was widely read on the
His third emphasis on works of mercy concentrated on education both for children and adults. He
founded many schools around the United Kingdom and established a publishing system which
could produce cheap books about the world and the Christian faith to inform those who
otherwise could not afford to be educated,
When have you been the recipient of compassion from someone else? What did it mean to you?
- ‘Gain all you can; save all you can; give all you can.’ Which of these is the most important
to you? Which is the most challenging? Why do you respond in this way?
- In which area of life in your community are you most conscious of the need for
compassion? From what you have read in the Gospels, how would Jesus respond? How do
you respond to this area, personally or in community? How does your own response make
- Jesus lived in an oppressed society. He had no home; He preached in borrowed boats; He distributed borrowed food; He rode on a borrowed donkey. How does this compare with
your own situation? What would you do if Jesus asked to borrow something that is
precious to you to help the crowds for whom He had compassion?
- Jesus’ compassion extended to everyone. Are there some groups of people for whom you
feel more compassion than others? Why is this so? How can you become more like Jesus in
the situations where you are challenged to show compassion?
- Having spent some time discussing compassion, has your concept of compassion changed?
How do you feel when you consider there are those whose lives will diminish to nothing
unless Christ-followers leave their comfort zone and are moved to make the effort to help?
- What does this mean for you? What desire do you have to reach out and make a difference
for Christ’s sake, remembering that we will never know what even a small act of kindness
can do for other people.
- How can the group help you with the struggles you have mentioned during this session?
Pray that you may be a people of mercy. Ask God to show you who needs His compassion in
your community and how you can extend that compassion in His name. Pray for one another in
regard to the issues that have been raised during your discussion time, and in regard to other
needs of the group.
Look for places where you can extend the compassion of Jesus this week. Be prepared to share
such incidents with others and what happened as a result.