During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “My heart yearns over the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”
And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. Mark 8:1-9 (mixture of translations)
To me, it’s pretty incredible that Jesus had compassion on this crowd. It’s hard for me to have empathy for large groups of people. It’s feels too overwhelming. It seems to impossible to help them.
If ever there was a good time to read this Bible story about compassion, it’s now. It’s CRAZY lately! We’re having hurricanes, wildfires, an earthquake. My stepmother is very ill in the hospital. A close friend just underwent a tragedy. (Here’s Irma at my house.)
Yet I confess that I often don’t feel the compassion I should. I was talking to my aunt earlier in the week. She called to see if we were okay in the approaching storm. As I listened to her, I could tell her heart was very heavy. She was feeling really down about all the hurricanes and wildfires. It was a heart check for me. I need to be more like her.
The goal is always to have a soft heart.
And one thing I am learning is that, although some people have the gift of compassion, most of us need to work at softening our hearts. For me, I tend to get intent on my life, and what I need to do. I might even be intent on the way I need to serve others. But when I do so, it’s like I have blinders on and I don’t see anything else. The needs around me don’t make a great impression on me.
So how do we soften our hearts to be more like Jesus? First, we need to try to see things from their perspective. Jesus said, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
Jesus really looked at what it was like for them. He saw they faced a long hungry journey home. In the same way, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “What are they going through? What does it feel like?”
Second, we try to relate. As I thought about those whose houses had been flooded in Hurricane Harvey, I remembered when my house was hit by an ice storm and we were without power for several days. I had to made accommodations to live and sleep elsewhere. I was homeless, just as they are. This made me more motivated to help the hurricane victims.
What will help in relating is admitting just how needy we, ourselves, are, on a daily basis. When we are in touch with our own desperation, we can connect to the desperation of others. Our prayer time with God needs to be real. We need to lower the barricades and and pour out our hearts to Him.
Third, we need to put a face to it. The news and social media are great for this. When we see the individuals, we care more.
This week I’m reading a book that is in part about the boat people who fled Vietnam after the war there. It was a terrible situation, and many lost their lives.
One American man saw a picture in the paper of the face of one of the boat people. Maybe something like this —
That man happened to be the president of World Vision. The face he saw motivated him so much that he put in a great deal of effort and fought for six months against many odds to expand World Vision to start caring for the boat people. They were able to save many lives.
Will we look at the faces? Will we see the person behind the face, and let it motivate us?
Because here’s the thing. We’re all brothers. That is why Jesus made the effort to help the crowd.
I love what Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Have we forgotten, or do we remember? Do we remember that the second most important commandment is to love your brother as yourself? Do we remember that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it?” (I Cor 12:26a)
Do we feel kinship, or do we feel apart from the rest, like they’re not our tribe, or like we’re better than them in some way? In the book I mentioned in my last blog, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle wrote, “”Often we strike the high moral distance the separates ‘us’ from ‘them,’ and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us . . . Jesus was not a ‘man for others’; he was one with them.”
Jesus was one with others. It is God’s dream come true that we live this out as well.
But now I’m back at the place I started. I want to have a softer heart. I’m working on it. But it’s still too overwhelming! There are too many people, and too many needs.
Last night I watched a well done documentary about missionaries to New Guinea.
What really inspired me was what the missionaries in the field said were the qualifications for being a missionary there. It wasn’t being a Bible scholar or an eloquent speaker or having some special gift. It was having a willingness to go and do what they could.
And that is what I see in the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000. Jesus wasn’t paralyzed by the great number and the great need. He was willing to do what he could.
Are we willing to do something, even if it seems like we only have a “few loaves and a few small fish?”
I guess the question is not, “Can God use me to meet this need?” But it’s, “How can I not put myself out there to be used to meet this need?”
In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle tells the story of a mother who lost two of her grown children to gang violence. It absolutely tore her up. And then she had heart attack symptoms and found herself in an emergency room bed next to a rival gang member who had been shot. The medical staff was frantically trying to save this guy, and as she looked over, she realized it was probably someone who had killed one of her sons. At that point she had a battle going on inside. She could wish he would die or pray for him to live. She found herself crying as never before and fervently begging God to save his life. Why? Because she realized didn’t want his mother to go through what she went through. “The hurt wins,” she explained.
We have to find a way to let the hurt win. We must soften our hearts enough so that the pain of the need motivates us more than the other things that pull at us.
That is having the heart of Jesus. That is why we put ourselves out there even when it seems overwhelming.
And when we are moved to put ourselves out there with what little we can do, God takes over and does amazing things, just as he multiplied the loaves and the fish. I believe it.
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. II Cor 8:12