Compassion Without End

Matthew 14:13-14 “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

What “happened” was the beheading of John the Baptist. John’s death couldn’t help but remind Jesus of how his own life would end, and that the time was getting short. He needed a little time away, time to mourn, time to catch his breath. He couldn’t have made his intentions clearer. Usually he was seeking a crowd. Now he withdrew. He did so privately. He got in a boat and sailed away to a place where there were no people. For once in his life Jesus wanted to be left alone.

The crowds didn’t care. They pursued him like the paparazzi. All they cared about were solutions for their own problems. They wouldn’t wait a few days. They wanted relief now. It doesn’t even enter their minds to give Jesus a breather.

None of the gospels give the impression they pursued Jesus so hard to answer their spiritual questions, to relieve the agony of their souls, to escape the burden of their guilt and sin. All they cared about was the temporary needs of this life. Some of them may have been managing their diseases for years. Would it have killed them to wait a few more days?

Do we show a similar level of concern for the people we want or expect to serve us? When we want help from someone, we can act a little pushy and entitled. We do not stop to consider, “I wonder how he is doing.” If we leave a message with the doctor about some issue, and a couple hours go by without a response, do we think only, “What’s wrong with that guy and his staff?” Do we stop to consider, “I wonder if everything is okay with the doctor and his family? I hope nothing is wrong.” Like the crowds pursuing Jesus, we are inclined to think only of ourselves.

Then marvel at Jesus’ mercy when people seek his help. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Note that it doesn’t say, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he rolled his eyes at how inconsiderate these people were;” or “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he was irritated about the way they were changing his vacation plans;” or “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he bit his lip and grudgingly gave a few people some help.”

No, “he had compassion on them.” He was genuinely moved by their condition. When my son was less than a year old, he caught a virus called RSV. He wouldn’t stop crying. Then we noticed that there weren’t any tears. We had to rush him to the hospital in the middle of the night because he was struggling so hard to breath. We weren’t irritated that he interrupted our sleep and kept us up all night. Our hearts were filled with concern. Jesus’ heart was filled with concern for the crowd that chased him down in that deserted place.

Then he did something about it. “He healed their sick.” With Jesus, compassion immediately leads to action. He rolls up his sleeves, and he goes to work giving these people relief. And all this in spite of the fact that he had come here to be alone, and he needed time for himself.

Shouldn’t we be seeking his help, too? We know Jesus’ mercy better than these crowds from Galilee. Mercy led him to look down on us in all our sin and not turn away in disgust. It’s the reason he was there on that day instead of enjoying himself in heaven. This was just one stop on his way to the cross, where mercy led him to give up his life to save the millions and billions who have given him every reason to abandon them. But he came and he stayed. He suffered and he died to relieve us of our guilty consciences and revive our sin-sick souls.

We know the supreme demonstration of Jesus’ mercy. Don’t be afraid to seek his help for a thousand lesser issues as well.

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