Text: Matt 14:13-21, NIV
You have probably had an experience where something or someone interrupted what you planned to do. Imagine you were about to embark on an important trip; a trip that is both vital to your vocation and person. You’ve packed your bags, ready to leave for this important assignment.
Glancing at your watch, you realize that the time to set out is just right for you to keep your appointment at your destination. Then suddenly there is this unexpected phone cal,l requesting that you postpone your planned programme. The call is neither from your boss nor from your spouse; it did not come from any of your friends or colleagues, but rather it came from a neighbour, who tells you that it is important for him to see you that day. Probing further, you find that what he wants is someone to talk to and a shoulder to cry on. What would your reaction be? Tell him politely that the timing is not convenient and that you would rather want the appointment rescheduled? Or simply refer him to another “competent person” who will attend to his needs with equal, if not better, capability? Both of these reactions would seem okay, given the circumstance, but the sad reality would remain that you could not attend to a neighbour at the time of need. “Well, there are some things we cannot help,” you might say, and you would be absolutely right.
In today’s passage, we see Jesus facing a situation that demanded that he abandon his own planned schedule, to attend to people who needed his attention at the time. This story took place after John the Baptist was beheaded at Herod`s birthday party. When he received the bad news, he decided to withdraw, probably to mourn the passing away of his forerunner in ministry, but clearly to be alone. This is obvious if we consider the manner of his departure and of his destination. He went by himself, without taking anyone along and he headed for a lonely place. “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (v.13a).
Understandably, Jesus was not at his emotional best. Imagine the shock then, when on his arrival at the supposed private place, he met a crowd of people waiting for him. The crowd was clearly a distraction from his original purpose, but what would he do? “Send them away,” you might say, or “Give them an appointment for another time,” or better still, “Explain to them your own need to be alone.” Jesus did none of these; rather he abandoned his original purpose there and attended to their needs.
But why would Jesus do that? Our text offers an answer, “He had compassion on them” (v.14b). Compassion was his compelling motivation for abandoning his own schedule for the sake of the people. Shortly after, his disciples discerned a huge need – there was no food. The solution they offered was to demand that Jesus send the crowd away to get food, since they were at a remote place. Compelled by compassion, Jesus spurned their offer and told them “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”(v.16).The little they had was enough for Jesus to use. “They all ate and were satisfied” (v.20a).
Compassion! Compassion!! Compassion!!!
We live in a broken world, where HIV is present and its devastating effect is real. The pain is there in families, in the communities around us and especially in many nations of sub-Saharan Africa. The challenge is enormous, but our little can resolve a lot when compassion is present. Compassion will resolve the issue of stigma, put an end to discrimination and banish all kinds of inequalities. If you look closely enough, there is a situation calling you to abandon your planned schedule and leave your “comfort zone” to stretch out your hands in compassion. Would you?
To think about: Imagine what could happen if all in our faith communities decide to respond to the challenges of HIV with compassion.