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Compassion

Compassion

Psalm 24, 29 (Morning)

Psalm 8, 84

Deuteronomy 29:16-29

Revelation 12:1-12

Matthew 15:29-39

Our Gospel reading today is one of the stories that is so familiar to us that we tend to gloss over it with that “yeah, yeah” attitude–the Feeding of the Multitude. The story is significant because it’s one of the few that appears in all four Gospels–and the Matthew story carries a deeper significance in that it is the only one that speaks to something that is the heart of mission. We see it in verse 32:

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”

It’s the only one of the four versions that shows how Jesus’ heart is turned by the fact of being in relationship with this multitude of people over a period of time. In the Mark and Luke versions, the focus seems to be more on the disciples’ desire to send the crowd away. “Let’s call it a day, get rid of these people, and go eat.” The John version is high theatrical drama, showing Jesus distributing the loaves in a manner that is reminiscent of the Eucharist. Matthew, however, speaks to something we can connect to, when we are engaging in the care and feeding of the sick, the hungry, the homeless, and the lonely–that sense of compassion and belonging when we engage in long-term mission.

Something I’ve discovered in myself are the different feelings I experience in “one-time” mission vs. “long-time” mission. One-time mission–things like helping out in tornadoes and floods–are certainly valuable. They help people in their desperation, and we feel good that we helped. Long-time mission, however, comes with another layer of feelings added on–a growing concern and compassion for the individuals affected. Whether it’s the regulars who come to a feeding ministry, or the “frequent flyers” who need help from the discretionary fund, or the repeat offenders in a jail ministry, there is a place where our hearts are softened to the people we encounter as individuals rather than simply the compassion we feel to a group of people in a desperate situation.

Matthew’s version of this story alludes to the risk of feeling a tiny piece of suffering, rather than making this totally a feel-good event. Likewise, it’s important to recognize that the same feelings that happened to Jesus might happen to us.

What can you recall about a time you realized that you were feeling compassion for the individuals you encounter in holy work, in addition to the joy that comes from knowing you are doing a “good thing?”

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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Maria L. Evans

Thanks, Norman, for your comments. A slightly more lighthearted version of that take on the Feeding of the Multitude appears in the 2004 movie, "Millions." (If you've never seen it, watch it.)

Personally, I don't find that version to cheapen it at all; rather, it empowers us into the possibility that we can be participants in the miracle, IMO. In fact, it's part of how I see hope in my own parish's assistance in feeding ministries!

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Normhutch

The feeding of the Multitude is one of my favorite Gospel readings; regardless of which Gospel it comes from. An aspect of the "story" that has always had meaning to me is an important fact that I read about, I think, in one of William Barkley's Daily Study Bible Series books. He said that the people of Jesus time had, in the type of clothing that they wore, interior pockets that they could store objects in including food (bread). He speculated that the people who were there to learn from Jesus saw his compassion and followed his example and shared what they had with their neighbor. Because of the sharing the disciples were able to collect the additional food after everyone had eaten their fill.

Some people may object and say that this understanding of the Gospel lesson removes the miracle from the lesson. Does it? We can see this as being similar to the mana in the desert and that is perfectly acceptable way to view it. But is the alternate reading of people sharing what they have not a miracle? I think that it is a miracle, and it is a miracle that we can duplicate anytime we, as individuals or as a church, decide to participate in making that miracle happen.

Norman Hutchinson

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