He had just found out his cousin and brother-in-arms, the man on earth who probably knew him best, was dead. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist had been beheaded. It’s a lot to take in and, understandably, Jesus needed some alone time.
But as soon as he sets off he is mobbed. Seeing his alone time as an opportunity, everyone who needs his attention comes running. And what is Jesus’ response? He has compassion on them. He does not stand up for his right to solitude. He does not even apologize and then take his needed time away. Instead, Jesus embodies the Old Testament words he has been reminding the so-called religious people, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice, says Yahweh” (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; from Hosea 6:6).
God’s people have always been much better about making sacrifices than compassion. It’s not a new problem. It’s so much easier to, on your own time—when it’s convenient for you, go out back and pick out a cow you don’t mind handing over to God, throw a small percentage of your resources at a problem, and feel like that’s the right thing to do. But that’s just pragmatic; you haven’t learned how to love any better.
The Hebrew word the prophet Hosea used was hesed. What God desires from his people is hesed—the word used for the love God shows his people. It is the kind of thing that is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and full of compassion (Exodus 34:6). God wants us to love him and others the way he loves us and others.
In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus walks the talk. In a moment of great personal need, he does not put off 5,000+ people until it’s convenient. He doesn’t make up for it with a donation afterward, or by praying for them, or pay down his guilt in some other way. He loves them and has compassion. He is the only human being with a heart capable of knowing God’s word and living it out—loving a mob of 5,000 rabid peasants with a host of extreme needs fueled by desperation.
This is precisely what makes him our God, worthy of all our effort and praise. He is the only one who actually loves. “We love him because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). Jesus is the only one who can actually fulfill God’s desires for the human race. God isn’t waiting for us to do something, to sacrifice. He wants us to have compassion; he wants us to love him and others the way he loves us and others.
The only way that you or I can actually help anyone is if we admit we are not Jesus. We do not have compassion and we do not love like this. And we have to fall at the feet of Jesus, who has done what no one else could do, and beg him to take away our hate, our guilt, our unworthiness, and fill us with his love and compassion. He will do it.
Jesus is the only way we (Nathan and Tessa) can really help here in Madagascar. He is the only way I can have compassion on all the desperately needy here and meet their needs. And as the story continues, he is the only one who can simultaneously meet all the desperate needs in my life and the thousands of people we are trying to help.