On a gray, blustery November day in 2013, I found myself careening through tiny brick-laid streets and alleys in a part of London that I had passed by numerous times, but never explored. When a couple from church I didn’t know well invited me over for lunch, they had no way of knowing that it had been weeks since I had been able to eat three full meals. My time in the UK was nearing an end and I was running out of money. While in some ways I had never been happier, a persistent hunger punctuated the majority of my days. As I wandered through this previously unknown neighborhood to share a meal at Ngan and Simon’s flat, I nearly broke down in tears. It felt like God was whispering to me that he knew exactly what I needed.
In today’s passage, we see Jesus trying to bring his disciples away from the crowds to a place where they can have some much-needed rest. But the crowds recognize Jesus and follow him, even to this ‘desolate place.’ How does Jesus respond? Does he turn them away and tell them to try again later? Quite the opposite. The scripture says, “he had compassion on them.” He recognizes their needs, and meets their desire to learn from him.
Jesus doesn’t reject the thousands who had no doubt left their chores and duties, farms, and shops to see and hear him. When daylight wanes and the disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds away to fend for themselves, Jesus still responds with compassion. He refuses to send anyone away hungry. So there, in the middle of nowhere, in a place where they could only rummage up five loaves of bread and two fish, he prays, and feeds 5,000 people. He meets their spiritual and physical needs.
And when he’s done, he doesn’t revel in the glory of how he just miraculously provided for the throngs of people who had followed him. He quietly turns to the Father, and he prays.
How wonderful to know that we serve a God who is compassionate! As we humbly approach him, our Lord Jesus Christ is not a God who dismisses our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
I like to think of Lent as a time of somber, but expectant hope. Lately I have felt distant from God, but I find hope in this passage, in this reminder that he is never too busy for those who seek him. He meets us where we are, not because of anything we have done, not because we have earned a seat at the table, but because of who he is.
And as we turn to the Lord, let us also turn to our neighbors. Let us show the same kind of compassion Christ shows us. Sometimes a simple gesture, like inviting someone you don’t know well over to share a meal, is the most wonderful extension of God’s grace. And when we’ve done that, let us quietly return to the Father, and pray.
Stephanie lives in Columbia Heights. She loves reading, writing, and hearing good stories, and is continually planning her next adventure.