In 2010, there was a devastating flood in our community and several of us in our church responded by helping those affected by the flooding. We showed compassion by helping others. Now let’s imagine that this happens again, but the next week, someone in the church has a car accident, is hurt and needs visits and meals during recuperation as well as some financial assistance. We would show our compassion by helping them. Then we hear of a family at Tusculum Elementary School who needs a lot of help because the flood made them homeless and so we feel like we want to respond to that. Let’s say all those things happen within a period of time of about a month. And after each event, we respond like we know we should respond and we help because we want to help. We help clean up after the flood. We bring meals to the hurt and give rides to those in our church. We help the family and keep on doing all the things we normally have to do in regular life.
And then one more thing: there is a tornado nearby and there are even more needs that have to be taken care of. What happens then? Well, even though you may be doing fine, you find yourself exhausted trying to show compassion to others. And suddenly you may feel like you just don’t want to help anymore. You are emotionally drained and can’t find the compassion in your innards to do anything. What do we do when we face compassion fatigue? In the passage that we look at this morning, we see what Jesus does when he faces a situation of compassion fatigue. But more importantly, we see what he expects his disciples to do as well in that situation. Let’s read Mark 6:6-13 and 30-44.
Verses 6-13 say that the disciples had been busy preaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick and now the disciples are reporting to Jesus everything that had happened. However, verse 31 also says that one group of people after another were coming to the disciples. They were so busy that they didn’t even have a chance to eat. They must have been very excited but they clearly needed some rest after their work. So Jesus says, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” That is such a beautiful invitation, isn’t it? Jesus recognizes that the disciples had been working very hard. Jesus knew that they needed some physical and emotional rest. So they get in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee to get to the other side to get away from the crowds. Now they could be refreshed in order to return after a while to the rigors of the kingdom. Imagine the relief they must have felt after they got in the boat. They get to rest!!
There is an important lesson here for us: we too need rest in our lives. Jesus does not demand that we work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without ever taking a break. We simply can’t go full steam all the time or we will wear out. That is why God, in his wisdom, gave us Sabbath days so that we could rest regularly. That is one of the reasons we are focusing on Sabbath at the “Give It a Rest!” retreat in the Sunday School classes I am teaching leading up to the spring retreat. We have lost the idea of needing rest in the presence of God and we need that.
II. However, in verses 33-37 we see that human needs interrupt the rest.
As Jesus and the disciples are going across the lake, the people went around the lake and were waiting for Jesus and the disciples on the other side. Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when they saw this? “Oh, no! They have followed us! Aren’t we ever going to get a break?” Do you ever feel that way when one problem after another comes up? We feel like that at times when we are overworked and so many demands placed on us. We think, “I just want to be able to get away for a little while, but my work or my problems or others with problems keep on following me.”
But notice that in spite of being tired, Jesus has compassion when he sees these people in need. When He sees them, He sees people who are like sheep without a shepherd. There are few animals that are as dependent and helpless as sheep. They are totally reliant on a shepherd to lead them to food and to protect them. They are helpless and pitiable creatures. That is what these people looked like to Jesus: poor people who had no idea how to take care of themselves and so He has compassion on them. But Jesus’ compassion doesn’t stop at feeling; Jesus’ compassion always takes action. It is easy for us just to feel sorry for someone. We feel badly for someone who is unemployed, sick or whose marriage is in trouble. But often that is where it stops for us. Jesus’ feelings of sympathy automatically become action.
So He begins to teach the people. Why this? Why teach people when they are sick or hurting? Because often a person’s greatest need is the lack of any direction or purpose in their life. And the greatest need is the spiritual need to be at peace with God. Jesus Christ and His kingdom provide meaning and purpose in our lives. People may have many physical needs in their lives but if those needs are met and their spiritual need is ignored, they are still miserable. We must never forget that people need the gospel of Christ in order to have meaningful life.
A man who had been a Muslim for most of his life once told how he became a Christian. He said two things had led him to believe the gospel. First, he saw the compassion of Christians for the poor, and this impressed him. Unlike Muslims, Christians showed mercy and compassion to Muslims and Christians alike, and they carried on projects in his slum community that broke the grip of poverty for some families. Second, the man said he heard the Christians keep saying, “God paid,” and he learned that they were referring to the death of Christ for sinners. [S-24] “The words ‘God paid’ ran in my heart,” he recounted, “and I came to a deep faith that Jesus paid for my sins too. At that point I became a Christian.” Now this man’s wife and four grown children have become followers of Jesus, and he is actively evangelizing his Muslim neighbors. Jesus teaches these people about God and thereby gives them what they need above all.
But then it becomes apparent that there are even more needs that need to be met. Now it is almost supper time and these people are going to be hungry. You can picture the disciples looking at the sun sinking lower and thinking now maybe these people will go home so we can get some rest. And not only that, they were also likely thinking, “If they stay much longer, we are really going to have a problem because these people are hungry and so are we.” So they tell Jesus to send them to the surrounding areas so that they can have food. The problem they see now is one they can clearly do nothing about.
There are so many needs around us in the world. In 2010, a study showed that there are 925 million people – that is one in seven people – in the world are undernourished. There are about 675,000 homeless people in the United States. And then there are so many other major hurts and needs that exist around us. There is oppression and injustice within governments that cause thousands of refugees. There are conflicts between ethnic groups that is centuries old. There is selfishness and greed on the part of many in western nations. These needs seem so far beyond our ability to do anything and we get compassion fatigue. How can we stop injustice or oppression that brings about war? Are we to help the suffering when we have trouble keeping things together for ourselves?
But we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus calls us to do something. Jesus did not tell the disciples, “You are right; you are worn out and there are too many people there. I’ll take care of it.” He told them to feed them! He knew it was an overwhelming task but he commanded that they do something anyway. Jesus tells us as well, “Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, take care of the sick, and help the oppressed.” He knows how overwhelming this is, but he still calls us to show compassion.
III. Let’s look at Jesus’ active compassion.
Jesus takes action, but notice He includes the disciples in his action. First, He tells them to take inventory and see how many loaves they have. Why does Jesus do this? First, he wants them to realize that while they may not have much, they do have something. Second, Jesus wants them to realize that they can’t do it on their own; they need His help. Third, Jesus wanted them to realize that they could still do something with the little they had. Then, Jesus tests their faith in him by telling the disciples to have the people sit down in groups. Imagine telling people to sit down, creating an atmosphere that says food is coming and all they have is five loaves and two fish. What faith this must have taken! Finally, Jesus has them pass out the bread and fish. Jesus wants them fully involved in this miracle so that they know that they can in fact do something.
Then Jesus turns this small amount of food into a bountiful meal for all the people. Now realize that only the disciples knew the magnitude of what Jesus was doing. As the food was being passed out, the people may have thought that Galilean Catering must have been called and brought enough food for everyone; they were oblivious to Jesus’ miracle. But Jesus was concerned only with teaching the disciples how to respond to the needs around them using His powerful help. However, Mark makes sure his readers know the magnitude of this miracle. He says that everyone had plenty to eat; in fact, there were even leftovers; twelve baskets full. Then Mark drops the clincher: there were 5,000 there not counting women and children.
Why had Jesus done this truly amazing thing? He felt compassion for these people and wanted to help them in their need. But Jesus also wanted to prove to the disciples that they could do great things with his power. Jesus can take our compassion and what little we have and do great things with it.
Yet we must still ask ourselves what Jesus asked his disciples, “What do you have?” That will help us to realize first that we likely have much more than we thought we had. We have much more than what we need. Jesus then tells us, “Use what you have even if it may not be much at all. Certainly the boy with the 5 loaves and 2 fish didn’t have much. But he gave what he had and Jesus multiplied it greatly. Finally, do what little you can and watch how God will bless it! God will take our compassion and the little we do and will do far more than what we can imagine. God can take whatever we give Him and turn it into a great thing for those in need. Are we willing to show compassion and give up a little to help those with overwhelming needs?