Jesus' disciples had a lot to learn. About a hungry crowd, they said, "Send them away." About a desperate mother: "Send her away." To parents with children, in effect: "Take them away!" Perhaps they were at a loss for knowing what people needed, or how to help. Maybe they were simply annoyed.
How often are we like that? I felt something similar on a recent morning driving to work. A man was standing near the highway entrance holding a sign that said he’s a veteran and needs help feeding his family. Many thoughts swirled through my head as I passed by: Is he really a veteran? His buzzed haircut and soldierly posture vouched for him, but both could be easily counterfeited. Was he willing and able to work at any menial job, or too proud to take what's available? Why was he willing to humiliate himself? Is his situation really so desperate? Would he really buy food with the donations, or drugs and booze?
Of course, it was impossible to change lanes, pull over, and ask him these questions without endangering myself or other drivers. And it probably wouldn't have been wise for me, as a woman, to approach him at all.
I found myself wondering if, or when, the “professionals” would step in -- people who work with the hungry, who know the right questions to ask, and have referrals to food pantries. Are they aware of this fellow? Have they tried to help and been rebuffed? Where were they?
Giving is sometimes messy, but Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with it.
In contrast to the disciples' hostility or apathy, a deep pity moved Him to effective, confident acts of mercy on behalf of the lost. The object of His compassion was people --those who knew they had problems and those who were oblivious. His objective was complete restoration. While not everyone responded in faith, He graciously served.
His compassion met both immediate and eternal needs -- problems such as hunger, sickness, and sin. While laying out hard truths about God’s kingdom, Jesus did not neglect other human needs but served the whole person.
As they followed, the disciples witnessed first-hand how perfectly Jesus expressed His Father’s compassionate nature. They heard Him say, “I feel compassion for them” and watched Him do something about it. In the course of their training, Jesus directed them to perform lowly acts of service for others, such as having them hand out the baskets He was filling with food.
In response to situations like the one of coming across a hungry person and feeling at a loss of what or how to give, some friends have come up with a creative solution. They've begun carrying bottles of water and granola bars in their cars and handbags that can be offered in Jesus' name, along with information about local food pantries. It's a good way to avoid the trickiness of handing out cash and the embarrassment of giving nothing.
Pro-life ministries reflect Jesus’ spirit of compassion on a larger, more organized scale. They serve the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. Pregnancy care centers “suffer alongside” those caught in the web of sexual immorality, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion. LIFT “suffers alongside” the dying and chronically ill. Meanwhile, the world offers counterfeit answers -- abortion, euthanasia -- that abandon people to death.
God often uses frailty or deficiency to draw people to Himself. Physical, emotional, and social problems point to the reality of sin because they proceed from it -- their own sin, the sin of others, or the Fall in general. Sometimes, caring for these problems is our only entrée past closed doors. The people served by compassion ministries may not know it, but they also have spiritual needs.
Evangelism and compassion go hand-in-hand. It’s not enough to educate people about abortion, or hold their hands as they weep. They may still be lost in sin. That’s why true compassion ministries will point toward the source of ultimate transformation -- Jesus Christ. Salvation from a life of sin and the penalty of death is only in His name (Acts 4:12).
God still prepares His followers for compassion ministry. The challenge is being willing, ready, and in position to help.
Scripture references: Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8; Proverbs 14:12; Lamentations 3:22; Jonah 4:11; Matthew 9:35-36, 14:14-21, 15:23, 30-38, 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:31-44, 8:2, 10:13-16; Luke 7:13, 9:11-17, 15:20, 17:11-19; John 1:18, 13:14; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 1:3; James 5:11.
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