Spreading Compassion

Sunday, August 6, 2023
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 & Matthew 14:13-21
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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Jesus had just learned about John the Baptist – his good friend and cousin had been unjustly executed by King Herod. He was in mourning and needed to get away, which is why he got into a boat to sail away to a deserted place.

But a crowd still followed him, having heard of his amazing teachings and miracles. They were so desperate that they followed him by foot. Matthew tells us they left the city limits to find Jesus, which implies that this was quite a trek. Some of them were in need of healing, so even though they were sick with some kind of debilitating disease or had some kind of terrible physical ailment they still made the long trek on foot to find Jesus. There were even children who made the trek with their families.

Even though Jesus was in mourning the loss of his close friend, John the Baptist, he had compassion on the crowd who made the difficult journey to follow him. Matthew really wants to get across that Jesus was moved by compassion. Elsewhere in Matthew, we are told that Jesus is moved by compassion to heal those who came to him in previous towns and villages he visited. He saw how lost they were – like sheep without a shepherd. He was moved by compassion when two blind men asked to be healed.

We sometimes view God as a faraway entity who sternly and coldly observes us from above. But what we see in Jesus is how God feels about us when we are hurting. Whether it’s physically, spiritually, or emotionally, God is concerned about us. He feels for us. He doesn’t want us to feel hurt or pain. We see in Jesus that God cares and has great empathy for us.

It is out of compassion that Jesus tends to this crowd of five thousand plus people. Matthew tells us that there were five thousand men not including children and women. 

While the disciples were also compassionate they were also all about logistics. After a time of Jesus executing miraculous healings, it was getting late and closer to dinner time. Since they were in a deserted place far from their homes or any town where they could buy food, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowds away so they could get dinner. An understandable request. They didn’t want the crowd to go hungry. 

I’m with the disciples. I too would’ve said something to the effect of: “Jesus, had we known that there were going to be this many people gathered we would’ve reminded them to pack a picnic dinner.” We should’ve planned for this!

Instead, Jesus says there’s no need to send them away and says to the disciples: “You feed them.”

They replied we have nothing – but that wasn’t true. They did have 5 loaves and two fish. It wasn’t enough to feed the crowd of five thousand, but it wasn’t “nothing.”

The year after I graduated from college, I went with a team of other freshly graduated girls from my church to serve at an orphanage in Romania for the summer. We actually lived at the orphanage and our role was to build relationships with the kids and to assist the staff. It was an amazing experience overall, but it was also an adjustment. One of our first nights there I was overwhelmed by the needs of the children. I remember saying to my teammates: “What good can we possibly do here?” This was in the late 90s, and the orphanages in Romania were a result of the government’s decree to ban contraception to boost the population and therefore boost the economy. This had adverse effects, however, as families had more children than they could afford, resulting in many children being given to orphanages. Parents believed the orphanages could provide for their children in ways they could not. I’m simplifying a very complex issue, but I tell you this because even as a bright-eyed 22-year-old, I realized we could not fix the problem of the abundance of children given up to orphanages, as it was a systemic issue that was much larger than me or my small mission team. I also wondered what good could we possibly do here for these kids who were lonely and hurting. I said as much to my mission team when we heard loud crying from down the hall. We went to see what had happened and found a staff member holding a young boy who was holding his hand. Apparently, he had cut himself (not badly), but the staff member in her broken English asked us if we had any bandages because they had just run out. I immediately rushed back to our room to grab a bandage from the first aid supplies we had brought with us and the staff member sat down on a bed with the crying child while I placed the bandage on his hand. The child immediately calmed down and then reached out for me to hold him. Well, that just melted my heart. Later on one of my mission teammates said to me: “I hope you realized you just did something good for one of these kids.

But I felt like the disciples. I have nothing to help solve a problem that is way bigger than me. I, however, did have something to help a child feel safe, loved, and cared for in their moment of need. And that was what I and my teammates were called to do during our time at that orphanage. To show the compassion and love of Jesus Christ to these children whenever we could.

What is something that you think is “nothing,” but in God’s hands could be turned into something significant that shows the compassion of Christ to others?

God always calls us to be a part of what God is already doing in our midst. It strikes me that Jesus said to the disciples, “You feed them.” 

Ultimately, it was Jesus who multiplied what the disciples deemed as “nothing,” but Jesus still wanted the disciples to hand out what only Jesus makes possible. We are called to help others see what only Jesus can provide.

In general, we want to come to church to feel good about ourselves and not to be challenged, but it shouldn’t have to be one or the other.

We should feel good about the fact that God wants to use us.

We need to be open to how God can use what we see as “nothing,” but in Jesus’ hands can turn into something significant that helps others just like those 5 loaves and two pieces of fish turned into a feast for over five thousand people.

Again I pose the question: “What is it that we have that we believe is too little or insignificant for God to use?”

Examples could be: Writing a note, texting or calling someone you know who is need of some encouragement. Volunteering here at church or elsewhere in our community where you know there’s a need. Being a part of the school supply drive. Perhaps you could help out to be a greeter, usher or volunteer with our children or youth ministries. I know that both Laura and Hannah are looking for more people to join their committees!

This is what I’d like for you all to do. I’m going to give you time to pray and think about what that one thing could be. As we’re doing that we’ll have some music playing to give us time to prayerfully discern what that one thing could be. 

In summary, we need to trust that God wants and will use us. God will work through us to help others understand how compassionate Jesus truly is. In faith let’s trust that what we think is nothing God will take, multiply, and use to help others understand just how much they are loved and valued by Jesus Christ.