Mark 6: 31-34
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Matthew 14: 14
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.
Matthew 20: 34
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.
2 Corinthians 1: 3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Yesterday we saw how, in the midst of physical, emotional and spiritual weariness, Jesus invites his disciples:
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (v. 31)
However, the crowds are unrelenting and the needs unending. By the time they cross the lake and reach their destination, hundreds of people have started to gather, each seeking a touch, a deliverance, a healing or a word of hope. To be honest, if it were me, I’d be tempted to get back in the boat and leave them there. I deserve a day off after all! However, Jesus shows us that while boundaries and rest are vital, we should never get to a place where we are hard-hearted towards the genuine needs around us. We are told:
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (v. 34)
Jesus was tired but he didn’t have what has been described as ‘compassion fatigue’. He had come to earth with the primary mission of seeking and saving lost humanity, so when confronted with this mass of people who were lost and helpless “like sheep without a shepherd”, he can’t help but meet their needs.
The English dictionary defines ‘compassion’ as ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.’ The Greek word however carries much more emotion. It literally means ‘to be moved as to one's bowels’ (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of the more violent passions) and it connotes the idea of being profoundly moved in your inner being or deeply affected at a gut level. Jesus looks on broken humanity and feels our pain, lostness and suffering at the core of his being. His compassion moves him towards those places that we hide or that others want to avoid.
Notice what Jesus immediately does: “…he began teaching them many things.” Later he will physically feed them, but his priority is to feed them spiritually. When I hear the word ‘compassion’ I generally think of social action like feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. And while these are absolutely vital, it’s important to note that Jesus’ first demonstration of compassion was to teach them Kingdom truths and impart Heaven’s wisdom.
At a time when some churches emphasise the ‘Social Gospel’ of good deeds and others the ‘Salvation Gospel’ of preaching, it’s helpful to see that Jesus held them both together. Genuine Christ-like compassion both shares the good news about Jesus and demonstrates the love and power of Jesus. It seeks to both clothe and convert. To heal the body and save the soul.
As we allow our own hearts to be broken with the things that break God’s heart, we too will feel deep compassion and be moved to love, serve, heal and meet the physical needs around us. Yes, we will need rest. And boundaries are important. But rest and boundaries are there to replenish us to be among people, not to keep us isolated from people’s needs. As Mother Teresa said:
“I believe God loves the world through us - through you and through me…we are real co-workers and carriers of His love. Today God loves the world through us. Especially in times like these when people are trying to make God ‘was,’ it is you and I, by our love, by the purity of our lives, by our compassion, who prove to the world that God ‘is.’”