If we peer underneath Jesus’ table-flipping rage at the Temple (explored in Part 2), we find a still deeper emotion to reflect. Matthew’s account tells us that immediately after protesting the poor-oppressing, God-mocking Temple system, “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.”[1] What a beautiful moment. In it we see that Jesus was outraged not in spite of His care for people but precisely because of it. The very people marginalized and trampled under the religious power structure are brought into the spotlight and elevated by Jesus. (He has a way of doing that.) He didn’t take anything from them or treat them like chumps in a captive market. He gave them vision and sound bodies. He treated them like the intrinsically valuable human beings they each were—and all for free.

While Jesus was busy helping people amidst scattered coins and damaged furniture, the Temple business of selling and slaying animals for people’s sins had grinded to a halt.[2] Not only did he single-handedly shut down the sacrificial system that day; he was also known to walk from town-to-town offering people free-of-charge, on-the-spot forgiveness and direct access to God. Here was a scandalously free alternative to the captive markets of the Temple’s booming forgiveness business. He was becoming to people everywhere everything that the Temple should have been all along. His very being was making the old building obsolete. This threatened its revenue stream and its leaders’ privileged position as God’s middle men. This, of course, painted a big red target on Jesus’ back.[3] But it didn’t matter to him. He knew the consequences. The people were worth it. His emotions valued people’s freedom over a cushy pain-free existence.

This moves us to the emotion that Jesus was said to feel more often than any other emotion recorded in the narratives of his life—compassion. The Greek word for compassion—splanchnizomai—describes the interior state of Jesus with more frequency than any other emotional term in the gospels.[4] In Greek, splanch meant your guts. First century Jews often located the deepest physical core of your emotions down in your guts. (Anyone who has ever felt the abdominal churning of extreme anxiety or that losing-your-stomach-on-a-rollercoaster rush of extreme joy can understand why.) The splanchnizomai that Jesus so often felt was nothing short of a gut-twisting emotional reaction to the reality of other people’s suffering. His guts twisted for hungry people, for sick people, for blind people, for people grieving a lost loved one, for people who were spiritually harassed, lost, and exhausted.[5] In every single New Testament instance of splanchnizomai the twisting guts inspire action. He feeds, mends, comforts, and teaches the starving, sick, sorrowful, and spiritually confused. When Jesus tells his famous Parable of the Good Samaritan, it was twisting guts—splanchnizomai—for the battered, half-dead stranger that propelled the heroic Samaritan to action. Splanchnizomai set him apart from the calm-bellied religious villains of the story.[6] In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son it is again splanchnizomai that sends a father running for the horizon to embrace and kiss the son who had abandoned him.[7]

All of this shows us that, to Jesus, people are far more than “packages of tepid half-rotted viscera” (Celine), “self-compulsive bundles of 126 instincts,” (William Costello), “an aggregate of trillions of cells” (Jean Ronstand), or “digestive tubes” (Pierre Cabanis). For him, there is much more to people than what the biologist or neurologist can study. He blows the roof off of modernity so that people can again be esteemed as more than their bodies (while valuing and mending their bodies too).

Jesus, teach us to feel compassion for people in all of their irreducible value and twist our guts to action when they are devalued.

Read Part 4: The Joy of Jesus.

[1] See Matthew 21:14. It is little wonder that the children in the Temple weren’t afraid of the man who had just violently flipped tables. In Matthew’s account they sang and praised Him (21:15-16). Children, who often have finely tuned emotional radars, could detect the gentle compassion behind Jesus’ aggressive rage.

[2] N.T. Wright argues that Jesus’ table-flipping in the Temple would have stopped the flow of Temple sacrifices for a short while, prophetically previewing the total destruction of the Temple to come in 70 A.D. and hailing his role as the ultimate Sacrifice. See Jesus and the Victory of God, 420-427.

[3] There is an increasing trend among scholars to see Jesus’ attack on the Temple as the point-of-no return toward his execution. See N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, ; William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus, .

[4] There are approximately 24 specific, unique events where Jesus emotions are explicitly recorded for us in the gospels. Of those 24 instances, compassion is used 7 times, in comparison with sorrow (4), gratitude (4), anger (4), love (3), and joy (2). 5 of those 7 occurrences feature the term splanchnizomai, making it the most common term the gospel authors used to describe Jesus’ emotional state.

[5] See Matthew 15:32 (cf. Mark 8:2); Matthew 14:14; Matthew 20:34; Luke 7:13; and Matthew 9:36 (cf. Mark 6:34).

[6] See Luke 10:30-33.

[7] See Luke 15:20.