The Miracle of Compassion – Mark 6:30-44
“Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of God’s kingdom is soon validated by some amazing acts that reveal the saving power of God at work in him. People witness miracles of healing, demons driven out, the powers of nature subdued to Jesus’ will, death itself unraveling and giving back life. The sheer scope and power of his deeds proclaim that something fresh, a new power, is irrupting into history. These ‘deeds of power’ are unmistakable evidences of God’s liberating power at work through him.” — excerpt from Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture
Only one miracle appears in all 4 Gospels: the miraculous feeding of over 5,000 people – found in Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15; and the text we’ll look at today, Mark 6:30-44.
The ministry of Jesus is booming. In Mark 6:8-11, Jesus sends the disciples out 2×2, gives them authority over evil spirits. And this is what Jesus tells them in Mark 6:8-9: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.”
The disciples are to learn a lesson about trusting in God’s provision – “Don’t take anything with you but the clothes on your back and the staff in your hand. Everything else…God will provide.” And so the disciples go out and they preach repentance and heal the sick and drive out demons.
V31 – The disciples are so busy, they can’t even eat. We understand this, don’t we, in our fast food culture? 25% of American adults eat fat food every day. According to a recent study, Americans spent over $117 billion in fast food in 2011. Something sacred is lost when we’re too busy to eat properly. Jesus knows this.
Jesus says, “Come with me to a quiet place.” The word is actually “deserted place” or “wilderness.” Calls to mind the location of Israel’s exodus journey — the place where Israel murmured because they didn’t have any bread (Exodus 16).
But the crowds run ahead of them and they’re waiting on Jesus when he gets out of the boat. And v34 is one of the key phrases here that I want to focus on: When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Compassion – literally, “to feel in the gut.” He sees these wilderness people and allows their pain to reach Him at a visceral level. My mentor defines compassion this way: “Compassion is your pain in my heart.” This is what Jesus feels when He sees the crowd.
This August marked the 8-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In late August 2005, Katrina hit the Gulf Coast as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Total property damage was estimated at over $81 billion; more than 1800 people lost their lives. In the days that followed, we were all struck by the wake of destruction and death. Images of people stranded, standing on their rooftops waiting for help. Then came the stories out of the Louisiana Superdome. Looting, violence, all kinds of horrible things happened in those days that followed.
But people responded in powerful ways. Millions of dollars donated to charities; others donated to their churches and other faith-based relief organizations. Groups went to go and help; even groups from this very church. As with any tragedy, you always see the kindness and compassion of good people shining through.
However, like most disasters we experience through the broadcast media, the interest in Hurricane Katrina relief decreased as the months and years stretched on. People’s attention moved on to other disasters and causes. Outside of the anniversary of this disaster, when was the last time you heard a news story about Hurricane Katrina?
Psychologists have coined a term for what happens as these disasters fade from our memory – “compassion fatigue“. After a while, we become desensitized to the images of pain and suffering. Frequently affects caregivers – system gets overloaded with so much tragedy that they become emotionally callous.
But here’s the amazing thing about Jesus: he doesn’t seem to get emotionally calloused. He doesn’t have compassion fatigue. As Isaiah 53 says, He’s a man of sorrows, well acquainted with suffering…yet His heart still bleeds for these people. They are like sheep without a shepherd.
“Sheep without a shepherd” – this is a common OT expression for Israel without leadership or poor leaders. You find it in a couple of places: In Numbers 27:17, Moses says he doesn’t want the people to be like sheep without a shepherd after he’s gone. In Ezekiel 34 & Zech. 10 the same phrase appears, used against abusive shepherds who no longer care for their sheep.
In Jesus’ day, these crowds are lacking true spiritual leaders. Since the days of David, Israel has been waiting for her true King. A ruler who will stand as a true shepherd over God’s people – one who rules with compassion and mercy.
Look at the last part of v34 – Jesus’ first response is to teach them; “So he began teaching them many things.” This is primary: His compassion prompts His teaching. They have a need for deeper understanding and Jesus compassionately responds by teaching them.
It’s important that we hear this. Today, the impulse for many Christians is simply to go and serve. Service is absolutely vital to our mission. But teaching was primary for Jesus. He didn’t immediately rush to feed these folks; He spent time teaching them. In Mark 1, after performing all of these miraculous healings, Jesus goes off to this quiet place to pray; the disciples come find him and they say, “There are all these people looking for you!” Listen to what Jesus says, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)
Jesus is interested in more than mere charity. His ministry is first and foremost a ministry of teaching about the Kingdom of God. For Jesus, His compassion first prompted His teaching.
Presumably, Jesus taught them all day long because the disciples eventually speak up and say, “It’s getting late. Send these people away so they can eat.” And you can hear Peter mumbling under his breath, “Yeah & I’d like to get something to eat, too!”
But Jesus says something remarkable in v37: You give them something to eat.
One of the most surprising things about this text is that Jesus assumes responsibility for the crowd’s hunger. Moreover, he puts this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of his followers. “You give them something to eat.” Logistically, this is a problem: it costs 200 denarii – or 8 months salary to feed this kind of crowd. We know from John’s Gospel this was Phillip.
But I think what Jesus is doing is reminding the disciples of the lesson they just learned when He sent them out without food or money. God provided for them in mighty and profound ways. This scenario is no different. Note from Life Application Study Bible: “A situation that seems impossible with human resources is simply an opportunity for God.”
V38 – Jesus says, “How much do we have?” They reply, “Five loaves and two fish.” John’s Gospel tells us that Andrew is the one who brings this boy to Jesus. So we have this crowd of hungry folks and there’s one kid with a lunchbox. He’s the only Boy Scout in the group, apparently; the only one who came prepared.
Jesus has the group sit down, divided into groups. He looks up to heaven and gives thanks, blesses the food. And Jesus begins to divvy up the food; breaks it off and begins to pass it to the disciples, who take it to the people. 5,000 adult males were there, but we don’t know how many were there. Everyone eats, 12 baskets left over.
In answer to prayer, God does the impossible.
This ain’t your ordinary church potluck. Hardly anybody brought anything. Instead, this is an overwhelming demonstration of God’s abundant grace. This is not a story about how much you bring to the table; instead, it’s a story about what God can do, even with our meager little offerings.
V42 says everyone ate and they were filled.
We take it for granted that when we sit down to a meal, we’re going to leave the table filled. My Grandmother Bybee was quite a character. We’d go over to eat at her house and she would say this every time: “If you don’t see it, don’t ask for it; and if you leave hungry, it’s your own fault.” We’d never leave hungry — always fresh corn, okra, plenty of ham, potatoes.
But for most of the people in the world today, it’s not a given that they’ll leave the table feeling full. If you open up my refrigerator right now, there are leftovers from probably two or three different meals. We have the luxury of options when we go to the refrigerator or the pantry. In many places around the world today, that luxury does not exist. It certainly wasn’t common in Jesus’ day. But in this moment, Jesus gives a glimpse of the future – the Messianic banquet table over which He will someday preside. It is a table of abundance, where every need is supplied. It is the future for followers of Jesus – and that future breaks into the present in this miraculous feeding.
In this miracle, Jesus is saying, “We have a Father God who is quick to supply our every need to the degree of overflow. With Him, there’s always enough!”
Do you feel like a sheep without a shepherd?
Do you feel as if your needs often times outrun your resources?
Remember, it was the compassion of Jesus that prompted this miracle.
And that compassion does not run out or wear thin. Perhaps this is the greatest miracle of all: He cares for you. He is the Good Shepherd, the One who cares to supply our every need. Everything about our lives, from our physical sustenance to our spiritual survival, is dependent upon Him.
He will supply…He will provide…for He is our shepherd and we are the sheep of His pasture.
Are you trusting in His provision?