Tuesday, October 09, 2007


I spoke this past weekend at The Vineyard on being outward focused. It brought me to a particular Greek word in the New Testament - splagna. The word is used twelve times or so in the gospels in reference to Jesus. It is normally translated compassion or pity in most versions. If you want to hear more details, feel free to check out the message at the VCC website.

One thing that I wasn't able to dive into was that the word, aside being used about Jesus, was used in three of his parables. Each time, the "hero" of the story experienced splagna before taking the pivotal action of the story. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, the man to whom the servant owed a great deal of money experienced "splagna" toward the man and forgave his debt. The servant, in return, demanded a small debt that was owed him by another servant be repaid immediately. Though he received the benefits of splagna from his master (representing God), he could not muster it toward his fellow man. As a result, he lost everything. This is a Jesus theme - God forgive us, we must forgive each other.

This concept also drives what are likely the two most famous parables that Jesus ever told. The first story starts with Jesus being asked a question, "You say to love my neighbor, who is really my neighbor?" In the Parable of the Good Samaritan a man falls to robbers along the road and is left for dead. Several religious, educated, impressive people pass him by and ignore him, but a lowly disrespected foreigner sees the man and has "splagna" for him. He stops, takes immediate action and uses his own time and money to nurse the man back to health. Jesus follows the parable by asking his listener who the real neighbor in the story is..."the guy with compassion" is the reply. Jesus simply says, "Go and do likewise."

There is one more significant splagnatic episode a few chapters later in the book of Luke. Jesus begins to tell his three "lost" parables, concluding with what is commonly called The Parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son rejects his family and his loving father to take his share of the inheritance early and waste it on wild living. Not only does he waste his father's resources, but he basically tells his father that he wishes he would just go ahead and "die already" so that he could go about with his life. The son loses everything and eventually comes to his senses. He takes the long and humiliating walk back to his father, preparing to beg for forgiveness and possibly receive a job at his father's estate as a farmhand. However, his father has been watching down the road for his return. When he sees him at a distance, his rejected father is filled with splagna and runs to his son, shouting "My son is home! He was dead but now he is alive! Kill the fatted calf and throw a party, for what was lost is found!"

Here's the capper on the splagna discussion: God the Father waits for us and has pity/compassion (splagna) for us when he sees us returning home from our years of rebellion and selfishness. Though we reject him, his gut hurts with mercy for us. I think this parable shows us that the incarnation of Jesus himself was the result of the Father's splagna for his lost children. The advent was his action. Splagna leads to action, even for God.

1 comment:

Sandy said...


So glad you moved here. The two messages I've heard you give left me feeling stunned, amazed, and yet ready for action. Thanks. What's really great is the focus I have afer hearing the teaching - on God, doing what He wants. And I'm glad you like the 11:30 service best!