Catching the Compassion of Jesus
Reading in Mark 6:30-44, I was stunned by something I should have noticed years ago but never did. I was stunned by the attentiveness of Jesus to the needs of people before they were aware of it themselves, then by the way He directs the attentiveness of the disciples to the needs of the people around them.
The passage begins with the disciples reporting to Jesus what they had done and taught during the time that they had been sent out by Jesus, so all that goes on in this passage needs to be understood in the context of Jesus teaching them further about how to be His ambassadors.
As the disciples try to report to Jesus, He is aware of their need to get away from the pressure of the crowd in order to rest and be refreshed. So He says to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
To meet that need, Jesus takes them on a very slow sail across the Sea of Galilee. So slow that the people who are hurrying by foot around the lake beat Jesus and the disciples to the destination. Knowing that crowds would meet them on the other side, He made sure that they had time away from the crowd on their way across the lake.
When they arrive, Jesus is attentive to how lost and directionless and spiritually empty the people are. Verse 34 tells us, “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” So He provided what they needed; “He began teaching them many things.”
Then something rather miraculous happens. What Jesus wants to accomplish in the lives of His followers takes place in the hearts of the disciples: They become attentive to the needs of the people around them. They become attentive to the hunger of the people in the crowd. The compassion of Jesus toward others spreads to them!
So, with the ongoing goal of teaching them, Jesus directs the disciples in the meeting of that need. He says to them, “You give them something to eat.”
When they express the impossibility of doing that, Jesus asks, “How many loaves do you have?” Then He added, “Go and see.”
When they come back with the report of having five loaves of bread and two fish, He directs them to have all the people sit in groups on the grass. Then He divides the fish and loaves among the people, and after everyone ate and was “satisfied,” they picked up twelve baskets of leftover fish and loaves.
A miracle occurred in the feeding of the multitude, but I think the greater miracles here are the miracle of Jesus’ attentiveness to the needs of others spreading to the disciples, and the miracle of Jesus enabling the disciples to follow through on their care for others.
One of the things I learn from this passage is how wrong I have been in my perspective on prayer throughout the years. I have always tended to think that prayer is about me trying to get God to pay attention to the needs I am aware of, but what I see here is that prayer is far more about me learning to pay attention to the things God is already attentive to, so that I can catch onto what He is wanting to do in the world around me.
No wonder Mother Teresa stresses, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself.”
And no wonder Scripture encourages us so often to wait upon the Lord. At the age of 5, my granddaughter (Eleanor) seems to have captured this understanding faster than I. She wrote this prayer: “Wait for God. Don’t take longer. Say ‘I love you.’ Don’t be afraid.”