Seeing the crowds, Jesus’ innards trembled with pity for them.
The Jews and the Greeks could not succeed in making pity and compassion into a purely mental act. It sounds archaic, hardly short of embarrassing, to say that "Jesus saw the crowds and felt pity for them in his guts." But, in fact, any translation that omits compassion's element of viscerality has already betrayed the depth of Jesus' divine and human pity. Splanchna, the root of the verb here, means "viscera", "bowels", life-giving "womb", and in Hebrew rachamím means the same thing.
We all know how the strongest emotions—whether sorrow, fear, joy, or desire—are all initially registered in the abdominal region, and this physiological reaction is one of the proofs of the authenticity of our emotions. The same teacher, herald, and healer who surpassed all others in these crafts finally reveals himself in utter silence and inactivity in his deepest nature: the Compassionate One who is affected by suffering more elementally than the sufferers he sees around him.
If Mary's womb was proclaimed blessed for having borne such a Child, we now see in the Son the Mother's most precious quality: wide-wombed compassion. When we allow ourselves to be moved in this way, we are already hopelessly involved with the object of our pity: no possibility here of a distanced display of "charity" that refuses to become tainted by contact with the stench of human misery.
Jesus looks at the crowds, then, and is viscerally moved. What power in the gaze of a Savior who pauses in the midst of his activity in order to take into himself the full, wounded reality about him! Jesus never protects himself against the claims of distress. He is not content with emanating the truth, joy, and healing power that are his: he must become a fellow sufferer. His loving gaze is like an open wound that filters out no sorrow.
He has already done so much for them; but as long as he sees misery, nothing is enough; and so he wonders what else remains to be done. His contemplative sorrow becomes a stimulant to his creative imagination. He nestles all manner of plight within his person, and every human need becomes a churning in his inward parts. He interiorizes the chaos of the surrounding landscape, but, by entering him, it becomes contained, comprehended, embraced and saved.Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Meditation by Father Simeon.