Jesus had compassion for them.
However exciting and exhilarating large crowds may be, most of us will not choose to be there for extended periods. I have happy memories of the annual fireworks on Princes Street marking the end of the Edinburgh International Festival or being in London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Less so being on a crowded train which has broken down or going through security at a busy international airport. You will have your own.
Today’s gospel from Mark is full of action. People are returning, gathering, telling, hurrying and arriving. They are also crossing, rushing, bringing, begging and touching. It all sounds chaotic. There was no real place to withdraw, to relax or eat.
What struck me was that Jesus chose to remain among this chaos however hungry and tired he was. Not only did he begin to teach them - although we are not told what - but also to heal those in need. He shows himself to be the good shepherd. This is directly opposite to the shepherds in our first reading from Jeremiah. They destroyed and scattered. Instead, Jesus is moved by love and compassion rather than lording his authority over them.
I was reminded that compassion literally means “to suffer together”.
Emotion researchers define compassion as “the feeling that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering”. It is more than being sympathetic, showing pity for the sufferings or misfortunes of others or even being empathetic. There is something that touches our hearts deeply and makes us want to respond.
In his book, The Way of the Heart, the late Dutch Roman Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen writes “Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner Disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it”.
As human beings, we all have needs of various kinds, physical, emotional and spiritual to name but a few. Whether we like it or not and however much it may go against our inbuilt desire to be independent, there are times, I know, when we realise our need and have to ask for some help or assistance. When I go home most weeks to see my elderly mother I see something of that compassion which her carers, morning and evening, show daily towards her. It allows her to continue to live at home with dignity and greater independence.
Today we are encouraged to bring our needs to the living Christ who knows them even before we ask. They may not always be met in the way we want, but a way forward will hopefully be shown.
May God give us hearts which are compassionate. May we be aware of our own brokenness and willing to reach out to those around us. And may those re-assuring words from the psalmist (Psalm 145:8-9) “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made” ring in our ears and hearts this week.
Lord Jesus, you know our needs even before we speak.
We bring them into your healing presence.
Make us sensitive to the needs of others so that we may bring that same
healing presence and power into their lives.