I have compassion on the crowd

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

What image do you see when you hear the disciples report about the compassion of Christ? Do you read words like "moved by compassion" and wonder how they knew Jesus was being moved by compassion? Do you ever think about a Jesus who walked about the countryside being confronted by "the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others" who were in much pain? Do you see him weeping as these are laid at his feet? Can you envision the healing tears of the son of God? Can you see the compassion of the Lord?

In the book of Hebrews we read about our High Priest Jesus who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. The eternal compassion of Jesus astounds me. When I pray I picture him there with me. As I walk through life I imagine him cheering me on. When I hurt He hurts with me. His compassion is great and without comparison. I am in awe of his compassion both on the crowds and on me. And with those crowds I glorify God for the gift of His son in my life.

I am unworthy of your compassion Lord. I thank you and give glory to your name.

O woman, great is your faith!

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

This account can be a troubling one if it is generalized and one tries to say that salvation is exclusive to the Jews. The words “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs” are confusing if one does not realize that Jesus' mission was first to his countrymen. It is why Paul says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Even so, I must admit that I am so inspired when I read this account of a gentile woman coming to Jesus in behalf of her tormented daughter. It inspires me to press in and pray when answers seem so far away. This woman would not settle for a rebuff from the Lord.. she would not accept no.. she was fearless and bold.. she fought tenaciously for her daughter.. Jesus calls her faith great.. and her daughter was healed.

God help to be bold, fearless, persistent and tenacious when I pray.

Let them alone; they are blind guides.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Jesus has offended the religious leaders by comparing them to vain people who honor God with their lips but have hearts alienated from Him. He further compares them to blind guides who are leading their followers astray. The tension between Jesus and the Pharisees seems to increase as the story continues. In these verses He indicates that the Pharisees are not ordained by the Father.

His instructions to "let them alone" is a compelling one for people like me. It causes me to wonder when I should stop conversations with people who embrace differing theological views. I have a hard time doing that - especially online.. I am in the middle of such a dialog today. Maybe it is more about attitude? Maybe I need to learn to leave some of those with pharisaical attitudes alone?

Lord help me to avoid useless religious conversations.

This defiles a person.

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Religious people sometimes seem to be all about the food we eat, the drinks we imbibe, the music we listen to and the movies we watch. Such were the religious leaders that confronted Jesus about eating with unwashed hands.. they were focused more on the externals of the law than the heart of it. And the things that they spoke defiled them.

In verbiage similar to that spoken in the sermon on the mount Jesus reminds us that sin is an issue of the heart. The real issue of Christian life is not all of the things we do but the reasons that we do them. I think that the issue is one of transformation. A transformed heart is one that is free from the sins that Jesus speaks about.. and is not defiled when it speaks.

Lord help me to focus on the internals, rather than the externals, of life.

You hypocrites!

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
I can relate a bit to the way that Jesus reacts here to these religious leaders. I sometimes bristle when I hear various doctrines and theologies presented as fact. Often religious people elevate their own thinkings to the level of scripture. And when someone does not agree with them they, like the Pharisees, try to exert a phony kind of authority.

Jesus identifies the issue as one of hypocrisy and he presents a definition of hypocrisy that is a bit different. He calls them hypocrites because their spirituality is all external.. their focus is on the letter of their traditions rather than the spirit of the law.. their doctrines come from their heads rather than the heart of God.. they worship God in vain.

Lord, help me to not lean on my own understanding of the scriptures.

O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

What would it have been like to have been one of disciples in the boat? Jesus has just scared the heck out of them, the winds are still raging and now they see impetuous Peter going overboard? They watch Peter walk on water for a bit and then they watch as Jesus saves the sinking Peter. They hear Jesus rebuke Peter for doubting rather than encouraging him for getting out of the boat. And as the wind ceases they fall down and worship the Son of God. Daylight comes and they are once again on dry land.

This image presents a picture of what it is sometimes like to follow Jesus. In the midst of a stormy trial we often sit in our boat scared to death about the wind. And when God shows up we don't recognize him as he walks towards us. Sometimes we ask God if we can jump ship and he allows it even though he knows we will sink.. and we experience his gentle rebuke. Then the stormy trial passes and all we can do is worship Him and acknowledge who he is.

I think that the last few verses of this passage are so filled with hope as people are healed as they simply, in faith, touch the fringe of Christ's robe. It directs me back to Peter. Little faith will sometimes cause us to walk on troubled waters for a bit and it will sometimes bring healing in a simple act of desperation. There is nothing formulaic about faith.. be it little or large.. faith simply comes when we fix our eyes on Jesus and not the winds and the waves.

Help me to keep my eyes on you Jesus.. in troubled and calm waters.

Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Ever wonder why Jesus sent his friends off in a boat? My thinking is that he wanted to be alone to further process his deep feelings of grief over the death of John the Baptist. I wonder what his prayers looked like up on that mountain. When my first wife died my prayers became a spiritual lifeline. Mostly I prayed for strength for me and my kids. I imagine that Jesus prayed similar prayers.

Somewhere between 3am and 6am Jesus comes to his disciples who had been struggling against the waves and the wind for some time. Interesting that he could have come earlier but chose to let the disciples struggle for some time. Perhaps that is a sermon in miniature about the way that God works. Perhaps Jesus would have prayed all night long if his friends did not need him.

The reactions of his friends are pretty predictable.. I imagine that I too would have cried out in fear at the sight of someone walking towards me on the water. I love Jesus' reaction to their fear.. he doesn't chastise them for a lack of faith like he did on another occasion when storms hit their boat.. he simply comforts them telling them to take heart and not be afraid.

Help me to be persevere in faith Lord knowing that the fourth watch is coming.