There are very few stories that all four Gospel accounts tell, but the “Feeding of the 5,000” is one of them. I think because it so beautifully represents the vision God has for His kingdom come on earth as in heaven: Where the sick are cured and the hungry are fed. Where even one person’s meager offerings make an abundant difference for many people. Where no one needs to be anxious about there being enough for everyone. Where all leave satisfied and even the scraps are enough to care for the needs of tomorrow.
It’s a bona fide miracle by any standard and a poignant picture of what our world can look like when we gather around Jesus and his table.
But before it’s a food miracle, the story, at least as Matthew 14 tells it, is a compassion miracle. See, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, has just been beheaded by the ruler Herod. When Jesus receives the news, he retreats into a deserted place to commune with God. He goes there alone, presumably because he wants to be alone, but alone is not what awaits him. The crowds see what he’s up to and rush to join him.
As an introvert, these crowds get right under my skin. Stepping all over Jesus’ boundaries. Invading his quiet time. What, they know where he’s going, but can’t see that he might want to go there alone? Give me a break. The audacity of these people!
That’s my reaction when I read this story. But it’s not Jesus’.
Jesus sees them and instead of turning away from them, he turns toward them with compassion. I reckon Jesus realizes that just as he went out into this deserted place to commune with God, so did these crowds, whether they knew it or not. And so Jesus spends time ministering to them, healing their ailments, even though it’s likely not what he had on the schedule for that day.
A few hours later, when Jesus is decidedly more tired than when he first arrived and the disciples give him an opportunity to dismiss the crowds so they all might go find something to eat, even then he extends compassion. Jesus won’t take the chance that people might not find food at this hour, not when there is plenty to share. A second instance of his miraculous compassion.
Jesus’ compassion convicts me in two ways. The first is when I accept that he looks upon me with the same compassion. I’m not very good at receiving his compassion sometimes, but when I do, it has the power to transform me. The second is when I set aside my own aforementioned annoyance and start to see others with the same compassion as Jesus. When I do, it no doubt has the power to transform the world around me. I don’t know about you, but I think a world full of such miracles makes for a beautiful place to live; heaven come to earth.
Joshua Gorenflo and his wife, Kya, are ministers at Kenai Fellowship, Mile 8.5 on the Kenai Spur Highway. Worship is 11 a.m. on Sundays. Streamed live at kenaifellowship.com.