Matthew 14:13-21 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
“The Compassion of Jesus”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 2, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 14:
13Now when He had heard, Jesus went away from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself. And when the crowds heard, they followed Him by foot from the villages. 14And when He got out of the boat, He saw a large crowd and He had heartfelt compassion on them and healed their sick. 15Now when it was evening, the disciples came to Him, saying, “This place is desolate, and the hour has now passed. Send the crowd away so that they might go away into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17And they said to Him, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.” 18And He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19And after He had commanded the crowds to recline on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish and, looking up into heaven, He blessed, broke, and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples [gave them] to the people. 20And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up the abundance of broken pieces—twelve baskets full! 21And those who had eaten were about five thousand men besides women and children.
Jesus wanted to be alone. He had just received heartbreaking news. His cousin, John, had been executed by King Herod Antipas. No doubt drunk at his birthday party, having very much enjoyed his step-daughter’s dancing, Herod swore to give the girl anything she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter (Matt. 14:8). And that is what she received. John’s disciples “came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus” (14:12).
That is the reason why Jesus goes away via boat to a desolate place. Our Lord wanted time to grieve. He personally knew the sting of death and the deep heartache that death causes. This is comfort for us in our grief. Jesus experienced the very sorrow and loss that we experience, the very pain and suffering that the enemy death brings to humanity. As true man, Jesus was subjected to the sadness and anguish that death causes. He experienced it just as you and I do. So He is the perfect One to help us in our grief and sorrow. He understands completely the loss even when others do not.
But Jesus doesn’t get this time to grieve. As with us, life goes on. The crowds heard that Jesus was on the move. While He crossed the Sea of Galilee in the boat with the Twelve, they followed Jesus on foot from town to town along the shore and reached the place where Jesus was going before He arrived. Going ashore, Jesus saw a large crowd.
Was Jesus disappointed? Was He frustrated? He was seeking time alone with His disciples in His grief. He wanted time in prayer with the Father, as was His custom. But the lonely place is no longer lonely. The desolate place is jam-packed. But notice what Jesus doesn’t do. He doesn’t turn the boat around and run away. He doesn’t whine and complain. Jesus set aside His needs and had compassion on the crowd and healed their sick (v.14).
Even though Jesus has a need for solitude at this time of grief, He has compassion on this mass of people. In Matthew 9:36 we read, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” Then, Jesus felt compassion at a spiritual problem. In today’s Gospel, Jesus feels compassion as He faced people’s physical needs, the physical sicknesses of the crowd and, then later, because they need to eat.
What are our needs that prompt Jesus to have compassion on us? Like the crowds in that desolate place, we also have physical needs. We suffer from sickness and pain, from weakness and deformity. We struggle through grief and heartache during the losses of life. There are times we suffer from lack and from want. Money, food, or clothes may be in short supply. We have to work two or three jobs. We’re tired and worn out, depressed and anxious.
Jesus directs us to Himself in these times of physical need, even as He did the disciples. “You give them something to eat.” The disciples balked at the very idea, “We have nothing here except five loaves and two fish!” The disciples were not looking to their Master to provide what was needed. In our moments of physical need, Jesus directs us also to trust in Him, to trust in the heavenly Father who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers. Jesus invites us to pray to the Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” trusting that God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, so that we pray that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving (Small Catechism).
Our entire life and that of all people depends on God. He is the God who has compassion on us, making the earth fruitful and blessing us with the ability to work for the things we need. He has compassion on us through other people. When we are unable to work and do not have, God provides for our needs through the gifts of others—doctors, nurses, counselors, food banks, clothing banks, housing agencies, senior services, youth agencies, and let’s not forget His Church!
It is saving faith that trusts in Jesus even when the situation looks hopeless from our human perspective. Like the disciples, we are acutely aware of our limited resources. But unlike the disciples at the time, we also know Jesus’ power and goodness. Five loaves and two fish in the compassionate hands of Jesus becomes a feast in which everybody eats their fill.
The compassion of Jesus is something that you and I can bank on all the time. He’ll never let us down. Remember, at the time, Jesus had His own need, but He set it aside to have compassion on the crowd of needy people. In fact, it was our need, humanity’s need, that prompted Jesus in compassion to take on human flesh and become fully man. He set aside, for a time, His royal throne in heaven to walk among flesh-and-blood sinners who have all kinds of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical needs. Because of sin, we are twisted, always inclined to disobey God. Because of sin, the whole creation is broken and amiss. We suffer the ravages of life in a messed-up world day after day—earthquakes, floods, famines, disease, murder, hunger, thirst. All the different manifestations of creation’s brokenness give rise to Jesus’ compassion toward us. God the Son in the person of the God-Man Jesus Christ came to reestablish His rule over creation and to restore everything that is broken, twisted, amiss, and dying. And that includes you and me.
We read in Philippians 2, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8 ESV). Jesus’ compassion to save you and me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil took Him to a cross. On that cross, Jesus bled and died for you and me and all people. His death purchased and won the forgiveness of all our sins, restoring us to the full favor of our heavenly Father. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead promises our resurrection from death and a place at the heavenly banquet table forever. The God who had compassion on us by giving us His One-of-a-Kind Son to suffer, die, and rise again, is the same God who will seat us with Him at a feast where we will eat with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit at a banquet occupied by real, holy, living, flesh-and-blood people who are all recipients of the Lord’s compassion by grace through faith.
There’s nothing more that we could ever need. We have a compassionate God and Savior, Jesus Christ. We have forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. He richly and daily provides all that we need to support this body and life. He understands our needs—our hunger, our thirst, our pain, our sickness, our grief—and He is with us in the midst of our need. Jesus set His needs aside so that you can always be provided for by the God who loves you beyond measure. Trust ever more firmly in Him. Look in faith to Christ who will always provide, just not always in the way you might expect. Remember, He provided a feast with five loaves and two fish. He provided a feast of forgiveness and life through a cross. He will continue to provide for you in all your needs of body and soul. In the compassion of Jesus, you have everything that you need. Amen.