You remember the story. The disciples had been working really hard. They had been coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat. Jesus saw how tired they were and said to them “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31).
And so they got into a boat, ready for some down time, but others saw them going and recognized them and hurried along the shore keeping the boat in their sites. When Jesus and the disciples arrived at their destination and came ashore, their deserted place was deserted no longer. It was packed with people. A large crowd had gathered.
The disciples had worked hard, but it was never ending. Need was everywhere. It seemed like there was no way to get away from it all. Facing the needs of that crowd, knowing they were hungry and tired and feeling the rawness of my own fatigue, I would have been overwhelmed, crushed by the weight of it all. “It is simply too much and I am not enough,” would have been the cry of my soul that day.
“More than 10 million people across Somalia and the Horn of Africa are in dire need of humanitarian assistance due to a deadly combination of drought, escalating food prices and armed conflict. Hundreds of thousands of children are facing death due to starvation.”[i][i]
This day, we face these numbers and perhaps our own fatigue, and we may wonder “How in God’s name are we to respond, so great is the need?” Perhaps we will turn away overwhelmed — crushed by the weight of it all. Or angry at those who would use vulnerable people as pawns in political conflict. Or unnerved by the randomness of chance, wondering why it is that we were born into this while they were born into that?
But the Gospel tells us that he had compassion on them. Jesus looked out on that vast crowd, on their hunger in Spirit and body and was moved with compassion, .. And not just here in this story of the feeding of the five thousand, but also in countless other times when Jesus encountered the needs of people all across Galilee. Jesus sees vastness of need instead of shutting down and turning away and his heart opens wider and wider. And when it does, when Jesus stands in that place of compassion, things happen. The blind see. The lame walk. The dead step out of the tomb “and all ate and were filled and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces of the fish.”
I believe that when we deeply and purely open our hearts to others, when we have compassion, we open space for God. Compassion carries us outside of our own skin and into the skin of another. Compassion is a force of love that connects us one to another. To be filled with compassion is to be filled with the sacredness of God. And with God, things happen. The hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the captive is set free.
And so my prayer for us all today is that we may have compassion for all who are suffering this day. Let us pray:
Holy One, open our hearts so your compassion may rise in us.
Give us the courage to really let ourselves feel your truth that we are all one.
That the hunger of my brother is my hunger.
That the sorrow of my sister is my sorrow.
Today we pray for all of the people in the Horn of Africa who are suffering from hunger, violence and loss.
We pray that their suffering will come to an end.
We pray for those in positions of power that they will find the will
and the way to bring peace and prosperity to all your people.
We pray for ourselves that compassion may lead us closer to you.
And we pray that your hand be upon us, so that through you we may be
shown how we are to feed the hungry around us today. AMEN
Peace to you — Stacy
(Information about relief efforts can be found at the United Church of Christ's website at http://www.ucc.org/disaster/africa-drought/ and also at Unicef http://www.unicefusa.org/)