One thing I hate is being interrupted, especially when I am having a quiet moment, and my pet hate is when someone calls my name or demands my attention when I am in the loo. I am afraid to say that my response is not always very gracious! In our story today Jesus is interrupted. He had just heard of the gruesome death of John the Baptist, so he had got into a boat to find a quiet place to grieve away from the crowds. But the people followed and flocked around him when he reached the shore. Now I might have been sharp with them, or perhaps said “excuse me I just need a little time alone at the moment” and maybe he was tempted to do so, but in Matthew we read:
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.
Jesus saw the people. He looked at them and instead of seeing them as a large crowd, he saw them as people, individuals with needs. He saw the broken-hearted, the depressed, the desperate, the lonely. He saw those struggling in difficult marriages, he saw those who were abused, those being bullied and manipulated. He saw the sick, the demon-possessed and their weary carers. But he didn’t only see the people and their needs – it says that he had compassion on them.
The Old Testament says again and again that the Lord is compassionate. And in Psalm 145 we read; The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Sometimes I think we forget this about God, and we think that he is more like us – not liking to be interrupted, not noticing the needs of people around us. But this passage makes clear that Jesus not only saw the crowds but was compassionate towards them. Not just as a group of people but as individuals.
In today’s world we often have adverts on social media and the television which pull at our heart-strings but perhaps because there are so many of them we may feel compassion for a moment but it does not lead to any action. We suffer from compassion fatigue. NOT so with Jesus. He stepped out and reached out to the people healing those who were ill.
The story does not end there. The crowds stay and evening draws near. The disciples suggest that Jesus sends them away to find food. Instead Jesus turns to the disciples and says; “you give them something to eat”. Jesus wants to involve his disciples in caring for this crowd too.
You can almost hear them think “He’s got to be kidding!” What they do say is, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. In other words, we haven’t got the resources to do what you are asking. But he told them to bring the bread and fish to him, he prayed and thanked his Father for the food and gave it back to the disciples telling them to feed the people. And it says, ‘They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.’
Jesus asked his disciples to stop being by-standers watching him as he reached out in compassion to the crowd. He wanted them involved too. He wanted them to see the needs of the people. And he does the same with us who are today’s disciples. He doesn’t want us to simply stand by and watch others minister. He calls us to action as he did the early disciples.
But like the early disciples we often say, “I haven’t got enough” or “I can’t do that”. It feels like he is asking us to do the impossible. The task seems way too big. So let’s look again at Matthew’s account of what happened. They brought what they had to Jesus, he thanked God for it and gave it back to the disciples who stepped out in faith doing what they were told.
And that is when it happened. As they stepped out in obedience to what Jesus has asked of them a miracle occurred! The food stretched and fed every man, woman and child who was there. Not only were they fed but there were leftovers! Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the disciples that day!
Those disciples had initially thought that Jesus was asking them to do something impossible, something that they did not have the resources for. But Jesus was not asking them to actually perform a miracle, just to be obedient to what he asked. Then he did the miracle.
I want to ask you a question; DO YOU THINK THAT JESUS WILL DO THE SAME WITH WHAT YOU BRING TODAY? There are many people in the world today who Jesus looks at and has compassion on, people in some form of need, especially spiritual need and Jesus asks us to see their needs and do something. He doesn’t ask us to perform miracles but to bring what we have in obedience and to allow him to multiply it.
Before I end, I want to do a quick detour into Romans 9 where we hear Paul lamenting that his people, the Jews have rejected Christ. Paul’s heart is broken when he contemplates the way the covenant people of God have rejected Jesus. He declares that he would be prepared to be cut off from God for the sake of his people. This is deep compassion. It is what drove Paul. He like Jesus saw the people, saw their needs, and had compassion. His compassion was not a sit back in his chair and say a prayer compassion – it was get up and go, and trust God to work, obedience.
We are going to end with a short meditation. There will be music played by Emma Benn and some images for you to focus on. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you so that you might see people as Jesus sees them, have compassion and step out in faith – knowing that we have a great big God who multiplies all that we bring and can do immeasurably more than we can even imagine.