Mark 6:32-34 “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Ever had a vacation ruined because you couldn’t get away? Jesus described the people coming to him as “sheep without a shepherd.” This isn’t the only time it’s used in the gospels. This is what Jesus found when he came to earth: sheep without a shepherd.
Some of the sheep were wandering in the direction of self-righteousness. For them, faith and religion had become a “do-it-yourself” project. We may know better than that, we think. We understand that “salvation” isn’t a do-it-yourself project. Jesus would have you know that the spiritual life isn’t one, either. Too many self-help books from the Christian bookstore, too many TV preachers preaching moral living, may give us the idea that after the cross, and after conversion, it is more or less up to us to get our acts together and do the right thing. That’s all sheep, no Shepherd. That’s not how it works. We always need the Shepherd with us, sometimes to direct us, but more often to carry us on his shoulders.
Other sheep had given up on faith and religion (or never tried it at all). We hear of Jesus being a friend to prostitutes, and tax collectors, and sinners. That doesn’t mean he approved of their life choices. He was there to change them. He was there to change their minds about sin, and then introduce them to this powerful thing called grace. We are surrounded by people like that today. “I’m not interested in church.” “I’m not religious, but spiritual.” “I’m not a fan of organized religion.” They have no Shepherd. They have no idea of the problem with the direction they are going.
In general, Jesus came to people who didn’t get it. There was so much they didn’t know. So what did he do? Mock them in Facebook and Twitter posts? Call into talk radio shows and gripe about them there? Write them off and leave them alone?
“He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus had compassion. You see, the God we worship is not an otherworldly bookkeeper sitting far away in a little cubicle somewhere, making sure everyone’s accounts are balanced. He isn’t a cosmic bureaucrat enforcing policies handed down to him from above, affecting the lives of people he will never meet.
The God we worship sees the heart’s true need. He sees our misery, even the misery that is self-inflicted. It saddens him. He genuinely feels our pain. And he is moved. He wants to help us from the heart. It is his deepest desire to bring us relief. We know this is true, because Jesus is that God.
That compassion sends him to work. “So he began teaching them many things.” Many of the people in this crowd likely came to Jesus for no other reason than that they wanted a miracle. The other gospels tell us so. Some might have wanted just to see the magic show. Jesus did some miracles on this day.
But the deeper need was to teach them. Faith and religion are not about being entertained, or finding an easier life. They are about finding real help for our hearts in a life that isn’t easy or entertaining. They are about finding that help in the grace and forgiveness of a loving God who cared enough to come here, and live here, and die here to rescue us from our sins. He rose again to give us an infinitely better life on the other side of death. This is the good word on which hungry souls feed. This is our hearts true need–to be fed by the Good Shepherd who has compassion on his sheep.
There are days when I think I need a better car, or a long loud scream, or a million dollars. What I really need is the same thing everyone else needs. I need Jesus to be my Shepherd, who sees me, and provides the food my heart needs.