Compassion for the Masses

Compassion for the Masses: Six lessons gleaned from a busy day of ministry with Jesus

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Of the miracles of Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand is the only one recorded in detail in all four gospels. None was quite as public, performed in front of so many witnesses.

According to Mark’s account (6:30-44), it happened serendipitously. Needing to get away from the crowd, Jesus withdrew (with His disciples) to a quiet place (verse 31). This highlights the first of several principles in this story: Solitude and rest are essential to effective ministry.

Solitude and rest are essential to effective ministry. - Whaid Rose Share on X

But word got out; the people found them. And how did Jesus react? He welcomed them, highlighting another important principle: Ministry is all about people.

Jesus was drawn to the people

Furthermore, Mark underscores that Jesus was drawn to the people because of what He saw and felt: “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd” (verse 34). Here’s yet another principle: Ministry must be motivated by a genuine compassion for the needs of the masses.

This is expanded upon in the next three verses. They’d come to the end of a long day of ministry, the people were tired and hungry and there was nothing for them to eat, for it was a “deserted place.” The disciples’ natural impulse was to send the people away so they could get themselves something to eat, but Jesus challenged that approach: “He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat” (verse 37). Here we find another important principle: Ministry is about meeting people’s needs, and we are to be an active part of meeting those needs.

The remaining verses highlight the miracle and marvel of this story. From a lunchbox with five loaves and two fish, surrendered by a young boy whose identity remains unknown, thousands ate and were filled, and there was an abundance of left-overs! Always remember: God uses ordinary people to meet God-size needs in ways we would never imagine.

Compassion for the masses

But ultimately, the outcome of the story has everything to do with Jesus’ compassion for the people, which moved Him to meet their need for bread.

In the description of the crowd and the surrounding circumstances—vulnerable, hungry people, in a desolate place—we see a picture of fallen humanity, especially in its present pandemic-stricken predicament.

Finally, Jesus’ challenge to give the people something to eat may have startled the disciples initially, but in the end, the resources needed were wonderfully supplied. There in that desolate place, without the help of a food-supply chain, they fed thousands. Hence this final principle:  Jesus always supplies the resources to match whatever task He sets before us.

Jesus always supplies the resources to match whatever task He sets before us. - Whaid Rose Share on X

Look to Jesus instead of ourselves

It is too bad that the disciples looked to themselves, to their own resources, instead of to Jesus. What’s worse is that we tend to do the same thing. Surrounded by a sea of needy humanity, we become overwhelmed in thinking there’s no way that our limited supply can match such great need. But this story is a reminder that “Little becomes much when we place it in the Master’s hands,” to quote a well-known gospel song.

That this story is recorded in all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14) is reason enough to give it close attention. It is a reminder that ministry is all about people, that we are to have genuine compassion for the masses and dare to become an active part of meeting their needs.

For as Gandhi observed, “There are people in this world so hungry, God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”  How grateful we are that he does this through the lives of ordinary people like you and me.


Whaid Rose
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Whaid Rose, former president of the General Conference, is dean of the Artios Center for Vibrant Leadership and pastors the Newton, NC CoG7. He and his wife, Marjolene, live in Denver, NC.