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The Compassion of Jesus

July 26, 2021

The Compassion of Jesus

“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been 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?’” – Mark 8:1-4

For three days, Jesus taught and engaged a crowd of 4,000 people. No one seemed to get antsy or bored or tired or hungry. We don’t know if or how they sustained themselves during that time, but we do know that Jesus grew concerned about their physical well-being. He realized that many of them had traveled great distances, and he did not want them to collapse from hunger on the road home. Although he had been feeding them spiritual food, Jesus knew they needed physical food as well to fortify them for their journey.

As a man, Jesus was well aware that both body and soul require nourishment. And, since Mark tells us he was often too busy to eat, he was also familiar with the pangs, weakness, and exhaustion brought on by prolonged hunger. He understood the people’s needs and longed to care for them. The English translation of the word compassion can be a bit weak; in Greek, the term connotes a deep, visceral feeling of sympathy or pity that moved Jesus to action. Just as they needed to be fed, he needed to feed them.

If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it mirrors the narrative from chapter six in many ways. In fact, Mark himself introduces it as a sequel: “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…” (v. 8). In part 1, the disciples fretted and doubted while Jesus provided, feeding 5,000 men, women, and children with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Not only did he meet the people’s needs, but he met them abundantly, and the disciples later gathered twelve baskets of leftovers.

In part 2, the crowd numbered 4,000 and was composed primarily of Gentiles, rather than Jews. And, this time, Jesus had been teaching for three days, rather than one. Still, if anyone should have recognized the plotline, it was the disciples. Would they remember the last time he fed a multitude and anticipate another of Jesus’ mighty works? Spoiler alert: no! They immediately asked how Jesus was possibly going to feed all of these people in the middle of nowhere.

Did they really question his ability to do something he had already done? Did they doubt that that his compassion could extend to the Gentiles? Had they forgotten everything they had witnessed and experienced? Before we criticize the disciples too harshly for their wavering faith and short memories, we should probably do a quick self-assessment. Haven’t we also experienced God’s provision and faithfulness only to doubt him when the we encounter the next roadblock? Just as Jesus longed for the disciples to respond in faith, so he longs for us to respond in faith. Just as compassion drove him to feed the Gentile crowd, so it drives him to extend grace and forgiveness to us when we falter. Praise God!

Reflect and Respond:
Isn’t it wonderful to know that the Lord cares about every aspect of our well-being: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual? As our creator, he knows exactly what we need when we need it. What do you need from him today? Do you believe that he can accomplish his mighty works in your life and circumstances? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Related Resource:

Walking in Light

In our six-week Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!

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