Have you ever moved to a new city? There are many things one can observe that takes the gloss of the initial joy of the decision to move. In many towns or cities, today we will see many homeless and come across many forms of begging. Perhaps it is a sign of the changing economy or maybe just the differences in geography, but these people disturb us both by their behaviour and their look. So, what is our response?
Seeing such things hopefully challenges us. Do we decide to do mission and raise money with garage sales, bags of food or other supplies or do we even raise money and give it to them? If we have children, I wonder how they would react or become involved. Maybe we would search those in need out and give them what we have put together. In such an exercise are we able to, through the act of giving, experience the beauty of childlike compassion. I ask this question because as adults, our compassion is often hampered by judgment and cynicism. Have you ever watched children exercise a strong desire to help the hurting, even if it meant going out of their way?
As I thought about this I thought it might be a similar kind of compassion we find in Christ. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus' compassion is everywhere. He is constantly healing and helping. Mark 6 gives us excellent examples of Jesus' love and compassion even as he himself is exhausted and in need of rest. In the chapter we hear that he has called twelve disciples, calmed a storm and attracted large crowds wherever he travelled. Jesus has even returned to his hometown only to realise that those who knew him best are not going to receive him.
As verse 30 begins, Jesus and his disciples reunite to talk about all that has transpired, including presumably the death of John the Baptist. As they attempt to get away to a solitary place to eat and talk, a large crowd finds them. Although Jesus is probably in dire need of a retreat to process all that is going on with his disciples, he feels compassion for the crowd and teaches them, eventually performing one of his greatest miracles by enabling the feeding of more than 5,000 people.
Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus again attempts to retreat, sending the disciples ahead to Bethsaida so that he can be alone and pray. He joins them later by walking on water to their boat, an act that totally amazes the disciples even after all they have seen. When they arrive at the other side of the lake and anchor their boat, they are again encountered by people seeking Jesus for healing, which even in his exhaustion, he does. I believe that we can learn three great lessons in this passage.
First of all, ministry is tiring. Obviously, the pace of ministry that Jesus kept is not something that we will ever experience in our lives. Whatever the pace, however, following God's call for your life and serving with all your heart takes a lot of energy. Even Jesus was tired sometimes and needed to be recharged. Often in our lives, we allow ourselves to be discouraged by our exhaustion. Instead of taking the chance to recharge ourselves physically and spiritually, we often just continue to attempt service with depleted energies or just give up altogether.
The second lesson we learn from this passage is about the depth of Jesus’ compassion. Even in spiritual and physical exhaustion, Jesus was moved to help those he encountered. He was so moved by their desperation that he stayed and taught and even fed them. In our lives, we rarely allow compassion to move us to that degree. Most of us, seem to find ways of successfully compartmentalising our ability and our willingness to help to the times that we believe we are ready and willing. Jesus' compassion for the crowd motivated him to stay and be with them, even when the timing wasn't right. Our compassion it would seem to me needs to lead us. However, we must have times of rest from our labours, but we must not use that as an excuse to turn away from those in need.
There's one more thing we can learn from this passage. It's easy to read this story and wish that in our suffering we could see Jesus as the people during his life on earth did. The great news is that the compassion Jesus displayed for people during his life on earth is the same compassion he has for us. Just as he did for the crowds, Jesus cannot stand to encounter our suffering without helping. Whatever our situation, whether we are going through a temporary struggle or something more serious, like illness or poverty, like many of those we encounter by the side of the road, Jesus is moved by compassion for us. Jesus is there for us just as Jesus was there for the people in Mark 6. That love and compassion you show by not ignoring the needs of others is so important.