The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 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 recognized 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. . .
(Then Jesus sees that they have no food)
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, Mark 6:30-34, 41-42
This passage challenges me! It’s hard for me to imagine giving as Jesus did, when he was so tired and depleted. Yet somehow he found the strength and inspiration to teach, and feed masses of people.
I think the key was that Jesus was accessing a deep well of compassion. It was like he was pulling from God’s heart, and that gave him what he needed to give to others.
Sometimes we forget how big God’s heart is. Look at how God describes himself:
And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Ex 34:6
God has this huge reservoir of tenderness, this innate concern for people. God has empathy.
I’ve been learning about the power of empathy lately, and it has been one of the most profound, life changing lessons for me. Check out this video by Brene’ Brown.
The message of the video is that if someone is in a pit, it’s much more helpful to them if you to get down in the pit with them, rather than if you just tell them how to get out of the pit or stress the positive side of being in the pit.
And that is what I think Jesus did with this crowd. He got in the pit with them. He was moved by their their helplessness and their hurts, so he made their desperate needs his own. He confidently drew from God’s power to meet these needs, creating a feast from a snack, knowing that God also was moved to get in the pit with these people.
This thrills my heart! And it is even more thrilling to think of the cross, where Jesus gets down in the pit with us in an epic way.
I love what Ann Voscamp wrote about the cross in The Broken Way: “Over all of us is the image of the wounded God, the God who breaks open and bleeds with us. How do you live with your one broken heart? All I can think is — only the wounds of God can heal our wounds.”
This reminds me of Isaiah 53:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities . . .
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. v. 4a, 5
Jesus saw our plight and our misery, and came and lifted the burden off of our shoulders and onto his own. He saw the overwhelming mess we made for ourselves, and got in there and cleaned it up for us. And that means he himself experienced the mess — the anguish, the depravity, the limitations of the flesh.
Sometimes, when I’m not doing well, it’s hard for me to go to God. I know he’s compassionate, but he seems so stern.
But I can go to Jesus on the cross.
The cross is the place we can bring our hurts, our inadequacies, our despair over a world gone wrong. The cross reflects everything that’s broken, so we don’t have to be ashamed of our own brokenness. The cross is a place we can relate to, where hope seems lost, but then where we are lifted up because we know that Jesus experienced the worst and came out on the other side.
The cross is the place where his wounds will heal our wounds and his brokenness will heal ours.
And this doesn’t just happen with salvation. There’s something immensely powerful that happens as we remember the cross. It’s like we get down in the pit with Jesus, as he got in the pit with us, and there we are able to experience God’s deep well of compassion, his huge reservoir of tenderness.
Every time we do this, it gives us the strength and inspiration to go out and give to others. We tap into the same source that Jesus had.
That’s what we need so much. That’s what I need. Because it’s easy for me to feel empathetic to someone’s plight. It’s much harder to act empathetic,and stop whatever I’m doing to get in the pit with someone
Yesterday, I had a root canal.
Okay, it wasn’t as bad as this picture, but it was challenging. It started with a crown that cracked two weeks ago, continued with a visit to the dentist a week ago that was supposed to fix the problem but left me in increasing pain, and ended (hopefully) with multiple shots of Novocaine, prolonged drilling of my tooth roots and bleary convalescence. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I was also experiencing stomach problems and some kind of respiratory virus. Ugh.
But the best thing about all this was that it makes me more empathetic to those who are going through physical challenges. It reminds me how lousy it feels to be down and out, and how nice it is when others remember you in prayer, text to asking how you’re feeling, offer to drive you to your appointment, or drop by some soup.
It totally motivates me to empathize more with others by doing something, and not just by sympathizing with them.
The cross is like this example, but on steroids multiplied by a gazillion. It changed things for all time. We have a real solid example of the vastness of God’s compassion. We can never be the same.
Empathy becomes vital to how we practice our faith.
How do we give when we are depleted? We do as Jesus did. We tap into the compassion of God.
But God knew it would be hard for us sometimes, so he gave us a conduit to make it easier for us to tap in. He gave us the cross, that takes us straight into the huge heart of God.
And there we are healed. We are inspired. We are empowered.
Our vision clears. We see the person and the need, and we are moved. And we find ourselves giving more than we ever thought we could.
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer