Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
People are such a pain, they ruin everything. Jesus tried to escape the crowds for a bit, but they cut him off at the pass, and met him on his way. So much for a deserted place. But, seeing them there, Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus had compassion. Compassion, it means literally “feel with.” Jesus knew what they were feeling, Jesus knew the danger they were in, wandering the world’s wilderness, like lonely lost lambs.
Jesus had compassion on them. And, having compassion, what was the first thing the Lord of the Universe, through whom all things were made, did for them? What great miracle did he offer to fix what was broken, to make them feel better?
He taught them. That’s it. He taught them.
Mark doesn’t tell us the exact lesson, but we can assume he taught them many of the same things he taught throughout his ministry. He taught them about the kingdom of God, he taught them to love God, to love their neighbors, to love themselves. He taught them that the first shall be last and the last first. He taught them that the Sabbath was made for us, not we for the Sabbath. He taught them that lost sheep are sought out, and prodigals are welcomed home. He taught them to love their enemies. He taught them how to pray. Jesus had compassion, and so he taught.
Later in the story, in the part we skipped over in the lectionary passage, Jesus fed them. At the end of the story Jesus healed them. But when he came to what was supposed to be a lonely place and found a flock of sheep without a shepherd waiting for him, Jesus first instinct was to teach.
There’s something to be learned in that. So often, when we see a situation and have compassion, our first reaction is to fix the problem. We see the sheep, and we feed them. We see the lambs, and we give them housing. And fixing the problem is a good thing. But it isn’t where Jesus started. Feeding the hungry is good, Jesus told us that. Housing the homeless is good, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, praying for and healing the sick, all of these are good and wonderful things, things we must do if we are to be true disciples of Jesus. But we live in a world that most often, when it believes in God at all, believes in a vengeful god a punishing god, a judging god, a god of rules and regulations, a distant, disinterested god.
We live in a world that feels discouraged; a world like sheep without a shepherd.
We must feed those who are hungry, we must offer shelter to those with no place to lay their heads, and if we truly have compassion, we must also teach those who are lost. They have been taught that god hates fags, that god helps those who help themselves, and that if they really loved him, they would be rich, too. They’ve learned that the Bible is a science text, instead of a love story. They’ve heard that when their child dies, “It was god’s will.” And when their team wins, Jesus was on their side.
When the world thinks of Christians, these are the things that come to mind. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, but I am sometimes ashamed to be called Christian.
It’s no wonder so many don’t believe in God; I don’t believe in that god either.
It’s time for us to call B.S., not in anger, but out of compassion.
Teach the world that God is love, not vengeance. Teach them that God is forgiveness, not judgement; that we are all broken and it is Jesus, not our perfection, that makes us righteous; that God does not “fix things” and make life sweetness and light for those who really love him. And most importantly, that God is not distant, not disinterested, but compassionate: a God who ‘feels with” and feels with us enough to become one of us. That God sleeps under the overpass, and is crucified over and over when a gay teen takes his own life, or when a black man is shot, or just goes unnoticed.
Eat with the sinners and tax collectors, and teach them that prodigals are welcome at the feast; that the broken don’t have to be fixed before they can be loved. Teach them that Jesus is God’s own compassion, Jesus is how God ‘feels with’ and that he loved them all the way to the cross, all the way through hell, and all the way through to the other side and into eternal life.
It’s time we took back the word Christian, and taught the world what it truly means to be loved by Christ.
Look at all those people, who are such a pain, the crowds, the mobs, the huddled masses, the deluded, the lost, the angry, the desperate and frightened. They are just looking for a good shepherd. Have compassion on them, feed them, heal them, teach them.