Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan. Matthew 15.32-39
At the end of Matthew 15, we have the story of Jesus feeding the 4000. You may think: didn’t Matthew just tell that story a few chapters ago? Yes and No. That was the feeding of the 5000 and they had a few more loaves to work with this time. The real difference in not the size of the crowd or the amount of bread, but the people being blessed. In this story, it is Gentiles who are fed, not just the people of Israel.
As we looked at last week, this move by Jesus to include the Gentiles was a shock to the disciples, because they had always understood God’s promise in terms of an ethnic exclusivity. God’s chosen people meant Israelites. Jesus shows that the compassion of God is not limited. It doesn’t see things the way that we do. The compassion of Jesus sees human suffering and works to overcome it; Jesus entered into human form in order to rescue His people.
The way for us to mirror His compassion is to get over ourselves enough to see other people where they are. If we understand the great lengths Jesus went to in order to overcome our sin and free us from the constraints of self-identity; we can live in a way that sees beyond our own situation. We can take chances for the sake of others that we would not otherwise do.
There is a tension here between risk and caution. While we are called to see the pain and struggle of others and to enter into it for the sake of compassion, we also have responsibilities to protect our kids and families. How do we navigate how much we put ourselves out there and when to pull back? I don’t think I can give a satisfying answer to that question, but I think the answer will always be to use God’s glory, not our own comfort as the deciding factor. We can take Jesus’ lead: ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’
Jesus saw the suffering and did something. We can’t multiply bread and fish, but we can do something. Be ready to use your life for compassion. Not because you HAVE to, but because it is the best way to reflect the grace given to you.