Jesus wanted some “me” time but he just couldn’t get it.
Man, can I relate. And not because I’m a pastor; it’s because I’m a mom. Parents of the world, do you feel me?
But before we talk about me – or us – let’s talk about Jesus. Jesus wanted some “me” time on this particular day because he had just gotten some bad news. His cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed by Herod. Jesus is on his way to a deserted place to be by himself – no people needing healing, no disciples needing teaching, just Jesus and God and creation. A little much-needed quiet time to grieve his loss and refresh his soul. He even takes a boat there – what better way to ensure you’ll be alone than to head off in a vehicle by yourself?
As he cruises across the Sea his weary soul is eagerly anticipating some space and silence. As he steers toward land he’s mentally picking out his sitting spot. As the shoreline comes into view he sees…
His “deserted place” is far from deserted. While he’s been sailing the crowds have been running. They’re waiting for him. They’re sick and they want healing. They’re lost and they want leading. They want him.
While I’m hesitant to compare myself to Jesus, I think any parent knows what this moment feels like.
I knew parenting would be hard. Who wouldn’t guess that? You’re responsible for a human being. I figured my children would need a lot of attention. I assumed they would change my life. But I had no idea just how much.
I truly did not know that parenting would push me to the brink of sanity.
One of my (many) mistakes was to think that babies arrived in their most high-maintenance state, and gradually – as they learned the basic functions of walking and speaking and using a toilet – they would get lower-maintenance. If you are a new or soon-to-be parent, hear this important truth: YOUR BELOVED BABY WILL ONLY NEED MORE AND MORE MAINTENANCE. The hardest for me was around the one-year mark, as our precious children were able to walk while unable to obey basic verbal commands. At that point there is no sitting down, no finishing your own meal, no completing sentences in adult conversation. There is only watching this tiny person until blessed sleep comes. That is all.
Those early years demanded a previously-unknown level of putting someone else’s needs before my own. Like when I hadn’t eaten since 10am and I just wanted to sit down and have a snack, but a cup of milk got spilled and someone had to clean it up. Or when my intended outfit for the day malfunctioned (why did I keep that shirt if it had a stain on it?) and I just needed five minutes alone to find something different, but my infant son is crying and my daughter wants to use the potty.
Parents, are you feeling me? Those moments are the worst.
But the truly lowest, hardest moments are the ones that more resemble Jesus’ situation on this particular day. When I had a hard conversation right before I picked up the kids and I want to sit and be still and recover… but they’re hungry and dinner needs to be made. Or when I’m heavy with grief and I’d like to just hide under my covers for a couple hours, but that is simply not an option.
These early years of parenting were incredibly hard. Looking back, I’m amazed that we were able to do it – that we put our own wants aside and attended to what our little people needed. Those times often felt like out-of-body experiences, where I watched myself go through the motions of servanthood while wondering, “How am I doing this right now?”
I’ll tell you how: compassion. Compassion is concern for the feelings of another. It’s what parents feel for their children. It’s what makes us delay our own needs for the needs of another. It’s also what Jesus had for the crowd that day.
When Jesus saw that crowd he didn’t hide in the bathroom (parenting trick), he didn’t tell them “this isn’t a good time for me” – he had compassion for them (Matthew 14:14). As though to prove the point, when this miracle repeats itself in Matthew 15 the motivation is the very same: “I have compassion for this crowd,” he tells the disciples (15:32). Jesus is tired, but he pushes onward to give the crowd what they need because he cares about them. That is the love of Christ.
We are invited in to that compassionate, self-sacrificing love.
I don’t mean just as recipients, although that’s a good part of it and a point that should not be overlooked. Our God loves us like a parent, literally sacrificing everything to meet our needs. That’s the depth of God’s compassionate love for us. If you’ve never heard that before, then stop reading this for a while and let yourself feel that incredible love.
But when you’re ready, come back… because there’s more.
We are invited not just to receive this compassion-driven love, but to participate in it. I know this because it’s what Jesus asked the disciples to do.
The disciples are also tired. The news of John the Baptist’s death was sad and scary for them, too. They’ve been patiently sitting with this unexpected crowd all day. And now, the sun is mercifully low in the sky, signaling that the work is almost done. They politely interrupt their Master: “Hey, Jesus. Nice day’s work here. You didn’t notice – what with your healing and all – but it’s getting late. And we’re like two hours from anywhere. Let’s send these folks home to get some supper. Let’s finally take that break.”
But Jesus is driven by compassion, and compassion keeps going even when it’s tired. He invites the disciples to join him in this concern for the feelings of others: “You feed them.”
“Us? Are you kidding? With what money? There are thousands of people here! We don’t have enough to feed them!”
(So often when we see someone in need of help – our children, our neighbors, our fellow human beings – our first thought is, “I don’t have enough.”)
Jesus pushes them on anyway. “What have you got?”
Jesus takes their meager inventory – 5 loaves, two fish – and breaks the bread, and blesses it. A miracle occurs. “Not enough” becomes an overflowing abundance of leftovers to take home.
Compassion led to abundance.
When we see others in need – children or adults, family members or members of the human race – we are called to see them with compassion. We are called to see them and feel concern for their situation. And more than that: we are called to act, to do something, even if we don’t feel like we have “enough,” even if their problem feels as big as feeding 5,000 people. We are called to trust that Jesus will bless our compassion and make it an abundance.
But I won’t sugar-coat it: that is really hard.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that all my parenting stories in this sermon are written in the past tense. My children are now the mature ages of 4 and 6-and-a-half, which is old enough for a wee bit of independence. They are beginning to dress themselves and do helpful things like clear the dishes. In other words: they no longer demand our full attention.
That’s obviously a blessing, but it’s a danger, too. No longer to I have to get up and go to them, no longer to I have to put their needs before my own. If I’m doing something I deem more important – housework, studying, sitting in a comfortable position – I can more often than not delay their requests. This is good, but this is dangerous. It means I am less often required to act on my compassion.
This is how compassion presents itself during most of our lives: as a choice. Our selfish sides tell us, “You don’t have enough right now. You’re tired. You deserve a break.” But listen and you’ll hear another voice, the whisper of the Holy Spirit: “You do have enough. Jesus is with you. Be concerned about the feelings of someone else, and act on it. There will be more than enough.”
Following Jesus means embarking on the way of compassion.
Come, and follow.