St. Mark 8.1-9
15 July 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint (Greek: grow weary, despair) on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” (Mk. 8:2-3; ESV)
It is as if the crowd was praying our hymn today. We sought the Lord in our distress, O God, in mercy, hear us. Jesus is moved from the insides, says the Gospel writer, from all that He is, with compassion and pity for those He has created. These people, probably mostly Gentiles, are on the way with Him. They are hurting or even may be hurting soon. He loves them. He wants to provide for them. That’s who God is. He sees our helplessness, and comes with peace to cheer us.
The disciples’ response is interesting. They’ve already seen Jesus feed 5000 Jewish men, and their women and children, on the Israel side of the Sea of Galilee, with five barley loaves and two fish, and gathered the twelve Jewish bread baskets full of leftovers. (recorded in Mk. 6)
But out it comes from these hard hearted Jewish Galilean fishermen, not much compassion: “From where will one be able these people here to feed bread in a desolate place?” (Mk. 8:4; my translation) Where will the bread come from, and perhaps a bit between the lines, why are you wanting to feed these Gentiles? They are not your chosen nation, not your own people. Why would Jesus give the crumbs from the children’s bread to the dogs under the table?
Why? Because unlike His disciples, the Lord of heaven and earth, who alone has the right to harden His heart towards every sinner, indeed does not harden His heart towards the crowd. He has compassion upon them. He acts to help and defend them in their bodily need – from seven loaves, all four thousand or more are fed bountifully, so much so that there are seven large Roman style bread baskets of left over bread collected after everyone ate their fill. He never shall forsake His flock – His chosen generation! No way. Bread from heaven. True Compassion shown.
What about you? Are you struggling in the wilderness of this life? Do you feel many days as if the Lord has led you out to a desolate place, and there is no help in sight? “From where will bread come?” asked the disciples, and often times, we ask the same question – just with different circumstances. Where will the next paycheck come from, the next mortgage payment, the next light bill, the next grocery? Where will the compassion come to relieve my loneliness, my hurt feelings, my stung conscience, my grief, my pain? From where will it come for this poor, miserable Gentile of a sinner? You may be tempted oftentimes to think that you do not deserve help and pity and compassion from anyone, much less God – perhaps because you know you have not always given help and pity and compassion to others. Perhaps other sins torment your conscience.
Where does true compassion come from? You can look to the world for pity and compassion, but you surely do not find it there.
Now there are always godly examples of love and compassion in the world. There has been incredible amounts of love and compassion and courage given to rescuing the soccer team boys in Thailand from their trapped position deep in that cave. One diver gave his life trying to help. Our young people and adults witnessed how wonderfully 850 Lutheran Christians can get along as they received God’s Word and Sacrament in large doses at the Higher Things conference, strangers holding doors open for others, many acts of friendship and kindness. You showed compassion this week and you didn’t know it – allowing the youth and pastor from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Lowell, MI to stay for free in our empty vicarage home on the way to the conference in Carbondale.
But for every wonderful show of compassion and love like that, there seems to be ten examples that show how much false compassion there is, or no compassion at all. Not only is there the usual crime and immorality and lack of respect for life and property, which crowds our newscasts and twitter feeds, but the discourse in our society becomes ever more hateful and lacking any attempt to understand other sides of issues, much less basic logic. It’s my way, or no way, or you hit the highway. As our judicial system opens the barn door for the destruction of life and marriage in our culture, and our political system goes further off of the moorings of the natural law God has given, along with our civilization, there is little pity or compassion for Christians who speak and act against clear immorality and perversions. Just ask the Christian cake bakers and wedding photographers who refuse to participate in so called “homosexual weddings” against their conscience how much compassion there is for their conscience. Just ask Christians in Canada being prosecuted for publicly speaking out against immorality.
This cannot be a great shock to us – we are not compassionate people by nature, who show pity, mercy, and love towards our neighbor in need. Within our human might, all things are not nearly just, and good, and right. If we were perfectly compassionate for those around us, we would never, ever let ourselves or our family and friends not be here to hear the precious Gospel and receive God’s grace and forgiveness. If we truly were compassionate for those around us, we would never, ever let our neighbor suffer at our hand – we would always obey those in authority; always love our neighbor and never harbor anger or malice towards them; always uphold our own marriage and the marriages of others by never lusting after others in thoughts or in deeds; we would always defend our neighbor’s property, possessions, income, family, and his reputation. Always. But always our hearts are tempted to be hardened towards the neighbor and his or her needs.
That hardness of heart towards others starts with a hardness of heart towards the Word of God. That hardness courses through our veins, it is who we are, ever since our first parents listened to the lie of the serpent in the Garden and ate of the forbidden fruit, rejecting God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Our first parents rejected the bounty of God’s love and life in the Garden, rejected the open way to the Tree of Life, chose to serve themselves instead of God and the good Creation He had given them, giving their members and ours over to impurity and lawlessness that leads to death.
Because of that sin and shame that we are all a part of – we all deserve God’s wrath and punishment over sin, the wages of sin is death.
From where will compassion and mercy come for us poor, miserable Gentile sinners? Where will help come from in this desolate, corrupt place in which we find ourselves? Without help and pity and compassion from someone, we will surely grow weary, faint, and die upon the way.
In the eternal places, far above, beyond all time and space, God said to His beloved Son, “It’s time to have compassion…” For our Savior saw our helplessness, and came with peace to cheer us. He had compassion upon us, from before the foundation of the world, even though we transgressed His righteous Law and rejected His holy Word. Because compassion and pity and undeserved love are what God is, it is His divine DNA, it is who God is. Becoming our brother in human flesh did not change who God’s Son is, but that He became our brother and lived to share our human existence rather proves just how much compassion and love God has, and for you and for every sinner.
For just as surely as He brought forth an abundance of bread from His hand that day for four thousand Gentiles out in the desolate wilderness, a bounty that was earthly perfection from seven loaves to seven baskets of leftovers, just as surely does our Lord Jesus bring forth a perfect abundance of compassion and pity and grace and mercy upon your sinful condition and the guilty sentence for sin that all deserve. For His hand that took up the loaves of bread also took up the cross, and took the nail we deserved, and bled for us, as He took in His own perfect body and soul the horror and shame and absence of compassion and pity and forsakenness and sorrow and death that God intends to punish the sinner with, and He took it all upon Himself instead and allowed it to be suffered in His body on the tree.
And all the earth waited for Him in the tomb for three days, and life came forth in abundance, death was defeated, the atonement for sin deemed paid in full, earthly and heavenly perfection walked forth out of the grave alive to open back the way to the Tree of Life for all who believe on His Name and are imputed with His righteousness.
Surely this Lord – the one who suffered in your place – and the one who lives and reigns victoriously having paid the wage for sin – is your great and compassionate friend. He has given of Himself in abundance, and the wellspring of His forgiveness and eternal life can never run out. That abundance of compassion is given you freely in your baptism, in Holy Absolution (which will be offered this Thursday afternoon), and in the Holy Supper of His body and blood.
In this confidence and hope let your faith in Christ run its course, to acknowledge God as your friend, who loves you weary and forlorn sinners, because He is love and compassion itself, who provides for you today and for tomorrow and for all eternity, and so cleave to Him and in the greatest need flee to Him, and to no one else. He never shall forsake His flock, His chosen generation. You are that flock, that chosen generation, Baptized into His death and resurrection. He is your refuge, and your rock, your peace and your salvation. As with a mother’s tender hand, He leads you, His own, His chosen band: To God all praise and glory!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +