I have a lifelong fascination with the news. Even as a young child when my friends were watching cartoons, I was watching the local news, CNN, or Peter Jennings. I had a thirst for understanding the world and learning about what was taking place whether it was in the United States or around the world.
To this day, I still have this fascination with the news and understanding what is going on in our world. My Twitter feed is full of news feeds from major media outlets and I still would rather watch the news than some of the other things we find on television. Abbi will tell you that I am always looking for a reason to turn it on the news.
Recently though, especially over the last 17-and-a-half months, I have found that I am less aware of what is going on in the world than I would prefer. Being a parent has taken my focus away from keeping up on the day’s events and onto other things of importance. I find that I am more aware about the various issues plaguing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than I am about what is going on across our world.
That is something we can all relate to, I believe. Maybe not about knowing the activities of Mickey Mouse and his friends, but certainly the issue of wanting to know what is going on around us and not having the time to do so. Our schedules are filled so much and other interests preoccupy our times that it seems we find little time to be aware of what is going on in the world, except for the cases of a major emergency.
Our busy schedules and lifestyles do not just keep us from paying attention to world events. It also prevents us from knowing the issues facing our local communities. I am not just speaking about local news, but something more important. That is a basic knowledge of the various needs, issues, and concerns that are on the hearts and minds of the people in our community and, yes, even in our churches. We can get so busy with life that we allow ourselves to become unaware of the needs around us.
In our passage for this morning from Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus and his disciples are much like us. They are on a schedule and have a plan for their day. Yet, a situation develops that requires their attention. How they respond to the situation before them, I think, offers us something to consider this morning. What we see is that Jesus calls us to be attuned to the needs that are before us and to offer compassion to those with needs.
We see this theme develop as we pay attention to the situation facing Jesus and the disciples as they travel to this solitary place in Galilee. Jesus was going to there because he was in need of rest and protection. Earlier in Chapter 14 we read about how Herod arrested John the Baptist and, beheaded him at the request of his daughter, Herodias, and her mother. When reports came back to Jesus he was obviously stricken with grief and desired a place to rest and mourn John’s passing. He was also looking for a place where no one could find him, especially Herod and his supporters. So, he headed to an area likely near Bethsaida, which was beyond Herod’s control, to get away and take cover.
As so often was the case when Jesus traveled words quickly started to spread that Jesus was on the move. A large crowd followed Jesus along the Sea of Galilee waiting for him to land. Jesus saw the large crowd once he landed and, Matthew tells us, he had compassion for them. A compassion where he heart felt the pain that the people exerienced. It moved him to action and caring for the sick among the crowd.
Jesus came to this deserted and solitary place to find rest and protection, but placed those needs to the side when he saw the needs that were in front of him. He offered compassion in its most basic form of offering love, empathy, and care to those with needs. Jesus was able to offer compassion because, even though he had his mind set on a certain activity, he was attuned to the needs before him. Jesus recognized there were needs among the people. Even though he came to this place with needs of his own Jesus was willing to lay those to the side to care for the people in front of him. To offer compassion, then, means to be aware of the needs that someone has and to see their needs as more important than your own.
Offering compassion also means finding ways to make sure that those with needs are taken care of. As the day turned into evening, the disciples who were with Jesus became aware that there were some immediate needs among the people. They were hungry and far away from the nearest market. The end of this passage gives us a count of 5,000 people, not including women and children, who were not traditionally counted in those days, being among the crowd. When you consider women and children, it is likely more than 20,000 people were at this secluded place looking for something to eat with little food to be found.
So, the disciples go to Jesus with what they believed to be the response of compassionate hearts. They did not believe they had enough resources to care for the people around them and believed there were others who could meet their needs. As a result, they asked Jesus to dismiss the crowd from the gathering so they could go to town to buy food. The disciples thought someone else could do a better job caring for the people.
This sounds really familiar to us, does it not? Often when we become aware of the needs of others we often try to find someone else to care for the needs. Some other organization, some other person, some other vender that could do a better and more efficient job at meeting those needs than we believe we ever could. We think this will immediately solve the problem if someone else more qualified and with better resources could take on these needs. I wonder if, sometimes, this isn’t about finding help for someone in need but an action like the disciples and trying to find the easiest way to help.
Unfortunately, the compassion Jesus calls us to share with those in need is one that is not about finding the easiest way. Jesus calls us to express compassion in such a way that requires us to get ourselves dirty. We see this in how Jesus responds to the disciple. He doesn’t dismiss the crowd. He doesn’t give them a voucher to use at the nearest food market. He tells the disciples to feed the people. He tells them to care for the needs around them.
What Jesus does, here, is to call the disciples to offer a type of compassion that requires them to walk with the people and to offer grace through the means that they had at their disposal. Ministry of compassion isn’t about sitting on the sidelines and hoping someone else will take care of the needs around us. It is about offering true community, grace, and hope to those with needs by walking with them and helping them out through the gifts and talents we have been blessed with. What Jesus tells the disciples, and us, is that when we are aware of needs it is up to us to find ways to offer compassion to them by seeking to meet their needs.
The offer of compassion to others always takes on different forms, but it is always about the church meeting the real needs of those around us. In this moment, it was for the disciples to take what was available to them (five loaves of bread and two fish, which were the basic staples of a meal of those who were poor in Jesus’ day) and to give them to Jesus. He then multiplied the little amounts of food into a feast for thousands. The disciples offered compassion by using what they had to join in what Jesus was actively doing in blessing others. The needs of the crowd were fulfilled and no one left the secluded place. All were fed and there were plenty of leftovers.
The message of this story isn’t about the meal, but it is about the act of compassion Jesus calls us to offer to all people. Jesus does not call us to a ministry and life of the church where we are trying to find others to do the work for us. Instead, he calls us to be the church that is attuned to the needs of its community, recognizes their own gifts and talents, and goes out to bless others by showing people love by meeting them in their needs.
How might we do that in our community? First, we need to understand some of the needs that exist in our neighborhoods. There are needs all around us that Jesus might be calling us to address through our offer of real compassion. Did you know that 750,000 Kentuckians, or 17 percent of the state’s population, annually struggles with putting food on the table? Did you know that Kentucky has the fourth highest poverty rate in the nation? Did you know that in our community that it is common to find children primarily being raised by a grandparent? Did you know that even though our local poverty rate is lower than the state average, that because of the high amount of debt that many families around us carry that so many of our families are struggling with providing for their basic needs?
This is our community. This is the community that we are called to be the church in. These are some of the needs that are around us today. Jesus did not give us another community to serve. He gave us this one, and it calls us to ask ourselves how our gifts and talents might be used to offer compassion to the people around us. Some of us may have the skills of organization and know how we may partner with other ministries to offer food and other assistance to those in need. Some may have the financial understanding to provide budgetary guidance to families struggling in debt. Some of us may have other gifts and talents that can be used to help others.
As followers of Christ, we are all called to offer compassion to those with needs by being aware of their needs, taking a moment to think how God might be asking us to serve, and, then, to walk with them by being the hands and feet of Christ in the midst of their needs and hurts. To love them in such a way that they may experience hope, a new life, and the joy of seeing people walking with them.
All of us are capable of offering compassion to the people around us with needs. Jesus’ words spoken to the disciples are truly spoken to all of us when we hear of various needs in our community. As Jesus says to the disciples, “There are people with needs around us. Go and do something about it.”
May we all hear the needs of our community, be the church, and go and offer compassion to our community by meeting the people in their needs and being the hands and feet of Christ.