40-Day Challenge: 4 Gospels in 40 Days: Day 4 (Mark 8-9) – Learning Compassion

AFR_MAL_malian-refugees_f“In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days, and they have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come from a great distance.’ His disciples answered him, ‘Where can someone get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy these people?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They replied, ‘Seven.’ Then he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. After he took the seven loaves and gave thanks, he broke them and began giving them to the disciples to serve. So they served the crowd.” Mark 8:1-6 (NET)

It is not very hard for me to understand the disciples’ response when Jesus called them aside to explain to them the gravity of the unfolding crisis. Their response indicates to me that they, like many of us, were realists. They sized up the situation and were not about to take personal responsibility for it even though Jesus clearly stated that he could not send the people home because it would create a human crisis. Crisis or not, the disciples responded “Where can someone get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” They knew that the magnitude of the need was impossible to meet given the situation and its constraints. They knew how the real world worked and reasoned that there was nothing humanly possible that could be done to feed 4000+ people, not even on a small scale, at one sitting.

I imagine that the disciples understood (or were, at least, tolerant of) Jesus’ compassion but it does not appear that they were especially moved by it. In fact, as readers of the gospels, we are often confronted with what appears to be a lack of compassion, even harshness, by the disciples when dealing with needy and suffering people. They rebuked parents for bringing their children to Jesus (Mark 10:13); they wanted to call fire down from heaven on unfriendly Samaritans who would not accept Jesus’ ministry (Luke 9:54); they begged Jesus to get rid of a Canaanite woman who asked for mercy for her demon-possessed daughter (Matt. 15:23). However, through this miracle, Jesus shows us that the road to service in the kingdom of God is paved with compassion. He also shows us that despite the magnitude of the human need, he expects us to respond to it by identifying the resources that are available to us and bringing them all to him.

I believe that compassion, although a matter of the heart, can be learned by serving others. Many individuals can testify that they have experienced changed hearts after serving those who need help. Often, as we serve others, our eyes become open to the depth of the suffering experienced by those who we serve and to our total dependence on God to help us relieve the suffering that surrounds us daily. I learned this truth during my work in prison ministry. It was not until after I began spending time leading bible study in a women’s prison, my heart began to grow in deep compassion for those whose brokenness or poor decisions have resulted in their incarceration and I began to recognize more than ever that only God could take my gifts and abilities, multiply them, and use them to transform lives.

Jesus worked to develop in his followers both their connection with God and their connection with people. He used two miraculous feeding incidents to reinforce the lesson that we should not wait for God to first multiply our resources and then serve; we must first serve (obey) and then watch him meet the need as we serve. He showed them that when we have a heart of compassion for those who are suffering, we will take personal responsibility for relieving their suffering despite very real constraints or limitations.

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously” (Micah 6:8 – Message Bible).

1 Comment
  1. Hi Linda, Our God Is so Amazing! His precious annointing on you as you realize….only God could take my gifts and abilities, multiply them, and use them to transform lives. I read both sermons you posted and have been blessed by your wisdom, praise God.

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