Does Jesus lack compassion? The question sounds ridiculous and at best has a whiff of being irrational and at worst dishonoring. But it is a helpful question to ask and answer in light of his words in Matthew 15.
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard what this saying?” He answered, "Every plant that my Heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. (Mt. 15:12–14)
On its face this instruction to “let them alone” seems a bit heartless. After all, they are heading towards a pit. What’s worse, they are leading others there as well. Does this advocate an anti-evangelism? Should we just leave people alone? And above all, was (is) Jesus lacking compassion?
No. And, no. Let me explain.
1. Jesus is the Incarnation of Compassion
His entire mission leaves in its wake the foamy waters of compassion. B.B. Warfield observed that the most common description of Jesus is that of compassion. Whether we are talking about healing the lame, raising the dead, or simply preaching the truth of the kingdom, he exemplified and was characterized by compassion. Remember, he came to save sinners (Lk. 19:10). This is compassion on steroids.
2. There is a Greater Context Here
The setting in Matthew’s narrative comes after some very dramatic and important scenes. In chapter 12, verses 22–32 the Pharisees (those referenced here) witness the miracles and heard the preaching of Jesus and they made a stunning conclusion. He is Satan or he works for Satan. They attributed the powerful working of the Holy Spirit to be the demonic working of the Devil. This led to a very stern exchange with Jesus in which he pronounced judgment upon them (v.32). They have had the privilege of the curtain being pulled back and the Holy Spirit working right before their very eyes only to attribute the work to Satan. This conclusion brought judgment from Jesus. He then began teaching them in parables (Mt. 13, especially Mt. 13:10–14). Jesus is compassionate, he is also a judge. One does not eclipse the other.
3. There is an Immediate Context Here
You might say, “That is still pretty harsh. They didn’t get it and he blows them up.” Well, let’s remember the immediate context: Jesus is talking to the Pharisees (Mt. 15:1–9). This admittedly blistering exhortation is directed at the Pharisees. He is talking to them clearly and biblically. He is isolating their heart idolatry and laying it bear in the light of the Scriptures. While being firm it is still a very compassionate thing to do.
So, does Jesus lack compassion here? I do not think so. If anything we are to marvel at his persistent compassion in the face of such bald rebellion. While being the Priest who is compassionate, he is still the Prophet who declares and the King who demands obedience.