The Heart of Jesus Manifest in His Tender Affections and Compassionate Love

“More Brilliant than the Sun," a weekly series by Robert Stackpole, STD, Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy 

The series so far:
PART 1: The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World's Darkness
PART 2: What Do We Really Mean By “The Heart of Jesus”?
PART 3: Devotion to the Heart of Jesus and its Roots in Holy Scripture
PART 4: The Heart of the Savior in the New Testament

PART 5: The Heart of Jesus Manifest in His Tender Affections and Compassionate Love

It is not uncommon for Christians to get the wrong idea about the Incarnation. We understand that the divine Son of God came among us and became fully  human, Jesus of Nazareth, and shared our lot. We often mean by this, however, that Jesus had a fully human body like us, but not a fully human mind and heart as well. After all (we may think), St. John tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) — not that He made Himself subject to changing human feelings and limited human knowledge! 

As a matter of fact, however, the term for “flesh” used by St. John (sarx in ancient Greek) could mean not just the human body, but the whole of human nature, body and soul. Moreover, nothing could be clearer from the Gospel story than the fact that Jesus shared in all natural human affections, as well as the virtue of mercy from the Holy Spirit, accompanied by tender compassion for all who suffer.

Fully human?
Consider: How could Jesus have been fully human if He did not share with us the most natural human emotions (for example, an affectionate bond with His mother and father, the comfort of home, and all the joys of human comradery and friendship)? Father Mateo explains in Jesus, King of Love (p.119-121):

How beautiful it is to think that His Heart beats in unison with ours. He loved as we love, all things good and lawful.

The first object of His love was, of course, Mary His mother, and how dear she was to Him who had created her purer and more beautiful than heaven itself for His glory and happiness. He loved her too out of gratitude, seeing that He owed to her fiat the human capacity to weep, to suffer, to shed His blood and die, things which were beyond the reach of God, but which Mary made possible by the Incarnation. How he loved also that carpenter whom He called “Father,” whose … hands labored for His daily bread and in whose arms as a little Child He tenderly reposed a thousand times. Think how Jesus our Brother must have wept when Joseph kissed Him for the last time, what grief that adorable, sensitive Heart must have felt when Mary was left a widow, and He … God, was orphaned!

To have preferences in our affections is very characteristic of our hearts: the Heart of Jesus also had its preferences and delightful ones. Apart from the little house in Nazareth, the scene of His greatest and most intimate love, He showed a marked preference for little children … And what about the elect of the [apostolic] band, Peter, James and John — especially the latter, who bore the title of “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” [Jn 13:25; 21:20] …

We come now to Bethany, to the house which witnessed the most intimate friendship of the Heart of Jesus. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary, and Lazarus” [Jn 11:5] with an affection passing that which He gave to any others outside [His home in] Nazareth. Bethany was His second home. Here many and many a time He must have uttered the words, “You are indeed my friends.” Here He unburdened His Heart, here He gave confidences which no others heard except His three friends. Here He gave tenderness, here as nowhere else He sought refuge and consolation, for Bethany was His refuge in the storms which were brewing in Jerusalem; here, in this country place He passed days and nights in prayer, secure from enemies, and — in His hours of fatigue and exhaustion — from the meddling intrusion of good but importunate and thoughtless people. In Bethany, too, He was looked after and cared for … What days and hours of paradise those three privileged souls spent there. For them only one trouble was unbearable, the absence of their Friend.

Our Savior’s tender affections were not only perfectly wholesome and natural; by the grace of the Holy Spirit in His soul, they were also elevated to the level of expressions of supernatural charity and compassion. Again, Fr. Mateo lays this out for us (p. 121-122):

Think of His compassion. “It is not the healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” [Mk 12:7]. Jesus had an evident tenderness for anyone in suffering, for the sad, the poor, and the feeble. This predilection, which for twenty centuries has stirred the heart of man, we call His mercy. He seemed unable to resist a sorrow; a hungry crowd, a desolate mother vanquished Him at once. … On the road to Naim, when He saw the poor widow weeping … He drew near and took the young man by the hand and gave him back to his mother, restored to life and health.
Everything that is noble and honest touched Him. The multitude which had followed Him into the desert was hungry and had nothing to eat: “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said [Mk 8:2], and He multiplied the loaves. … [S]o, too, all physical and moral misery found Him ever tender and compassionate. And when sufferers could not drag themselves to Him, He went to meet them. Remember the paralytic at the pond of Probatica — “Sir, I have no one;” no friendly heart, no compassionate hand to put me into the pond, and therefore I have been here for eight and thirty years. The Heart of Jesus must have leapt in His adorable breast on hearing this. He held out His divine hands to help the paralytic, and the miracle was performed. The whole Gospel is indeed a stupendous monument to the immense, the infinite compassion of the God-Man, who worked miracles, not to free Himself from His executioners, but to ease the wounds of the soul, to wipe away bitter tears and to lighten the crosses which all must bear.

Incredible compassion
Two episodes in the Gospels in particular manifest the incredible, supernatural compassion of the Heart of Jesus. 

First, the healing of the leper by the roadside (Mk 1:40-42). We need to remember that lepers were the “lowest of the low” in ancient Israel. Beset by an incurable, highly contagious, disfiguring and deadly disease, they were banished from common life in cities and towns, and had to live apart in the caves and valleys set aside for them. No one could draw near to them for fear of infection, nor touch them without incurring a state of ritual impurity, an impurity which took elaborate pious acts to undo. Lepers were banished also from all synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem, and the reigning doctrine of the day held that they were suffering brutally for their sins, or for the sins of their fathers and forefathers (see Num 12:10-15). Alienated from God, from the rest of humanity, and even from their own bodies, they crawled through a life of abject misery, and usually suffered an early death.

Hearing of the great prophet and healer from Nazareth, however, one of them took heart. He came to Jesus and knelt before him, saying: “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mk 1:40) — and surely by “clean” he meant “clean in every way,” not only cleansed of disease, but also cleansed of all that prevented him from sharing in the life of the People of God and fellowship with the God of Israel. “Moved with pity,” the Gospel says, Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him emphatically, “I will; be clean” (Mk 1:41, which also can be translated “Indeed I will,” or “Of course I will”). And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. So, rather than Jesus contracting ritual impurity (and perhaps even physical infection) from touching the leper, by the power of the pity and compassion of our Lord’s Sacred Heart, it was the leper who was cleansed of all impurity simply by being touched by Him.

In addition, what could manifest the compassion of the Heart of Jesus more clearly than His prayer from the Cross for those who rejected and murdered Him: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34)? Our Savior was not just moved to the depths of His Heart by the plight of the sick and those suffering from grief and sorrow; He had a special longing in His Heart for the rescue of all those lost in sin and unbelief. Our moral and spiritual misery led Him to go to the most extreme lengths, and to suffer the cruelest death the Romans could inflict upon Him, if only He could win our lost souls back to His Heart. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” Jesus said (Lk 19:10). Moreover, He enshrined His merciful love for us in this regard in parables that have captured the human imagination in every generation: for example, the story of a compassionate father of a prodigal son, a father who runs down the dusty road to embrace his long-lost son at the first sight of his return home (Lk 15:20), and the story of a Good Shepherd who cares so much for each of His sheep that He leaves the 99 in the wilderness in order to seek and save one that had strayed — and when He finds it He “lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing,” carrying it back to the safety of the flock (Lk 15:5). If our Savior has such tender love for us even when we have gone astray, then we can put all our trust in His mercy with total confidence.

Tears of Jesus
Perhaps most remarkable of all is the frequent reference in the Gospels to the tears of Jesus. To be sure, the Son of God did not weep because he was hypersensitive or emotionally fragile! We need to remember that in the ancient world, the capacity to shed tears was common among those regarded as heroes (e.g. the warrior Achilles in Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad). The most courageous men sometimes cried simply because, in this world full of suffering and loss, there is often much to cry about. “Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” the prophet Isaiah had foretold of God’s Messiah (Is 53:4). This prophecy was fulfilled throughout the life of Christ. Again, Fr. Mateo sums up the Gospel witness for us (p. 122-123): 

Nothing appeals to us more in this marvelous brotherhood than the tears of Jesus. “And Jesus wept” [Jn 11:35]. Yes, Jesus wept, just as we human beings do in the cradle and on our bed of agony. Can we doubt that the cold and hunger in the cave in Bethlehem drew forth the first divine tears, which Mary kissed away? …  When He came across grievous suffering on His road, the tears of the afflicted moved Him to compassion and He wept. The Gospel tells us of His emotion when He looked down upon Jerusalem which was to slay Him, her God. Foreseeing the woes she was to suffer because of her perfidy, He could not contain the sadness which overwhelmed Him, and He found relief in tears: “He wept over it” [Lk 19:41].

Recall that intensely touching scene when Jesus wept over the tomb of Lazarus. He arrived late; His friend was already buried, and Martha reproached Him with the words, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here my brother would not have died” [Jn 11:21], as if to say, “Thou knewest, Thou art our friend and yet Thou camest not, so it is Thy fault He died!” Our Lord was deeply moved. He asked to be taken to the sepulcher. And when He saw it, “he groaned in spirit” and could not contain His tears. “And Jesus wept” [Jn 11:33, 35]. Yes, He wept, He who was about to raise him from the dead! He wept, and with those tears began the miracle of the resurrection of His friend. The onlookers, who saw in Him the most marvelous of prophets, who perhaps for this reason had held Him to be above the ordinary feelings and weaknesses of common men, were profoundly astonished to see Him moved to tears. They exclaimed, “See how he loved him.” Those tears were a token of the burning love and tenderness of the Heart of the God-Man. 

This series continues next week with Part 6: The Heart of Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross.
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