This account from the Gospel of Matthew is about hunger. But even before the story gets to the obvious bodily hunger that Jesus satisfied with loaves and fish, we see another hunger. Large numbers of people, driven by hungers of the heart, followed Jesus across the lake to a wilderness. They stayed there all day, receiving his words, seeking his touch. They were probably not aware of Jesus’s needs. Jesus had just been told of John the Baptist’s death.
When the disciples were faced with hungry multitudes in a place too poor to feed them, they wanted to send them away. Jesus said, in Matthew 14:13-21, “They need not go away.” The disciples had only five loaves and two fish, and the crowd numbered 5,000 men, plus women and children. Yet after the crowd had been fed, 12 baskets full of broken pieces were left over. Matthew sees the miraculous bread as the new food of the Messiah, who, like Moses, leads God’s people to the promised land flowing with milk and honey.
Where some see obstacles, Jesus sees opportunity. Jesus surveyed the crowd, and deep within himself he felt their need and said, “I am unwilling to send them away hungy.” Jesus was moved by their light. He didn’t stand back and judge the people or blame them for the ache in their empty stomachs. He didn’t try to evaluate whether they were truly needy or worthy of his help. He didn’t excuse himself because he was too busy with his own important work to get involved with something else.
No, Jesus sensed the suffering of the people; he had compassion and did something to help the hungry. The apostles saw obstacles, but Jesus saw an opportunity to do good. What do you see?
We are called to see as Jesus did. As Christians, we have been called to follow Christ in ways of compassion. Because of this calling, we cannot endeavor to preserve a quiet and untroubled mind at all costs. If the compassion of the Lord is within us, we realize the pain of others as our own pain. This shapes the way we look on our own lives.
Because there is more suffering in the world than we can possibly address, compassion can be frustrating. We may very well feel that our efforts to alleviate the problems of hunger, homelessness, diseases and other misfortunes count for nothing. But that is not so. Our acts of compassion are signs that God uses us to show the world that life does not have to be pitiless and unjust. That life matters!
We may not feed the population of the world, but every time a hungry mouth is fed, that is a sign of the kingdom of God. We may not be able to house all the homeless, but every time we work to provide shelter for one more family, that is a sign of the kingdom of God. We may not heal the virus epidemic, but every time we embrace and comfort a person with the virus, we show a sign of the kingdom of God.
The magnitude of the problems in the world need not paralyze us. God can use even a cup of cool water given to a thirsty person to promote the divine work of compassion on earth. Will you help the needed? Will you get out of the hiding places of the world and help the people?