The Holy Gospel: July 31, 2011 (Year A)

Read:  Matthew 14:13-21

Meditation:  “Before the Miracle”

When I read a familiar passage, I often pray, “Lord, show me something new in these verses.”  I did that this week in relation to the feeding of the five thousand.  The “new thing” that emerged was my attention to the verses which precede the familiar and miraculous feeding itself.

Matthew says that when Jesus saw the crowds, “he had compassion for them” (14:14).

Compassion is the prerequisite for the miracle.  It is the prelude to any kind of ministry.  Compassion is the sign that our spirituality is healthy.  It is the evidence that our lives are not being suffocated by fatigue or smothered by egotism.  When people are a “bother,” we are in trouble.

I have experienced this feeling in my own life and ministry.  It happened when I was way over-committed, trying to minister on strength I did not have—“running on fumes.”  Over the years, I have met many clergy whose souls are low on compassion because they have given to the point that they are “given out.”

Churches can experience it too.  When we lose compassion, we become fixated on ourselves.  We move from a ministry mode into a maintenance mode.  Survival trumps service. When hungry people come, we don’t have the resources to feed them, and we may even blame them for becoming hungry in the first place.  If they were like “us,” they wouldn’t have gotten themselves into the mess in the first place.  “Be on your way; there’s not enough to go around” is the response of a compassionless spirit.

Instead, Jesus saw the crowds, and from a healthy heart, he had compassion on them.  Compassion is not sympathy; it’s empathy.  And that means to “enter in” to another’s situation, viewing it and feeling it as if it were our own.  From the vantage point of compassion, God moves us to serve.

Without compassion, we hold and hoard our bread.  With compassion, we share it.  Before we can “expect a miracle,” we must experience compassion.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in The Holy Gospel. Bookmark the permalink.