What is distinctively Christian about this text? What's distinctively Christian about Jesus seeing the large crowd and having compassion on them? This is especially hard for you to answer if you're under 35.
That's because the world around us is saturated with compassion. Nearly every weekend there is a race, a walk, a run, helping someone or some group with a special affliction. Almost every store counter has a donation can inviting you to have compassion on someone needing a medical procedure. Every grocery store has a way for you to add compassion for the homeless, the hungry, or the sick to your grocery bill. It's the same with professional sports. They are leaders in compassion. The NFL promotes compassion for the community with United Way. Major League Baseball officially sponsors the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. And the NBA supports 24 social service organizations.
This brings us to the edge of why I feel sorry for you if you're under 35. Time to go over the edge: Corporate America wants to be known for its compassion. If you didn't know better, you would think they were charitable organizations rather than businesses. The new age ones lead the way. Whole Foods gives 5% of its net profits to not-for-profit organizations. Starbucks in their mission statement has "concern for the community" as one of its 6 major goals. My favorite is the Hard Rock Cafe. Do you know what their official motto is? "Love All, Serve All." What use to be the exclusive purview of the church compassion, concern, serving the down and out - is now championed by corporate America.
But even this is not why I feel bad for you if you're under 35. No, I feel bad because not only the new-age companies are oozing compassion, but even the Blue Chip stocks are bleeding. Ford Motor Company has on their official web page a tab "good works." IBM proclaims on their web site that they have "diverse and sustained" giving programs. And General Motors has a whole section entitled "GM Sponsored AIDS Film." In the summer of 1977 I worked for General Motors. I went through their worker orientation. Not once did they mention their works in the community, their serving others, or their corporate responsibility. What they emphasized was that currently GM had 47% of world auto sales and wanted more.
If you're under 35, you bristle at the idea that a company wants only to make money. Moreover, you prickle at my finding fault with corporate America having compassion. You think that's refreshing, enlightened, nobler than the old way when just the church had compassion. And that's why I feel sorry for you because the new way has so carried the day that you can't see it for what it is. The world around us is filled with compassion because this is their righteousness before God. You can look at yourself in the mirror because you ran, walked, or raced for a cure. You can feel good about yourself because you put your change in the can for Jerry's Kids. You can feel good about watching the NFL, drinking Starbucks, or buying GM because they do good works.
The world believes having compassion for others is righteousness before God and others. Christian compassion confesses that all its righteousness is as dirty rags. The dollar I put in the can; my running in that race; my compassion for others is tainted, befouled, ruined by my sinfulness. I can't hold up anything I think, do, or say before God and say, "That's righteousness; that's goodness; that makes me a better person." Under the sharp eye of the holy God the good works promoted by the NFL, MLB, and NBA are flecked with sin, selfishness, and pride. Under God's sensitive nose, the loving all and serving all of Hard Rock Cafe stinks to high heavens.
The world doesn't believe any of this, and the sinful flesh within you rails against what I just said. How dare I assert that what all the world agrees to be righteousness, goodness, compassion is sinfulness, badness, and selfishness! That's because neither the world nor our fallen natures believe what we prayed in the Collect: without God we cannot do anything that is good. The world and our fallen selves don't believe we're lost, in need of a shepherd, in need of saving. Both believe they can stand before God as long as they have works of compassion, deeds of service, or attempts to help others. On the last day, however, all will see that this is not enough.
And that's your problem if you're under 35. As in a fairy tale, you're being kept from waking up to the full reality of your sins and God's judgment. Corporate America is breathing the poison mist of Satan that caring for others, having compassion for others, helping others can cover your sins, undo your sins, or satisfy God's judgment. Wake up! Wake up I say and see that if good works were enough to satisfy God's wrath then surely Jesus had enough of them. His life was perfect, holy. No sin was found in Him or His works. But what happened? Jesus was still driven to the cross, brutally crucified and crushed by God's eternal wrath. To satisfy God's laws, Jesus lived perfectly under all the commandments, but in order to satisfy God's wrath, Jesus had to suffer and die forsaken by God.
Your works are not good enough to satisfy the law of God. Give all your money to the poor; run in races for the cure till your legs fall off; build 10,000 homes for habitat for humanity, and if you think any or even all of these satisfy God's Law even a little, you have just earned a hotter and deeper hell for yourself. And neither can your sufferings satisfy God's wrath. If you try to offer your emotional pain, physical exertion, or tender feelings in the name of compassion to appease God, He will throw it right back in your face saying, "That's nothing."
Don't go to God based on the compassion you have for others. Don't try to appease God based on how you've suffered in having compassion for others. Go to God based on the compassion God the Son has for you. His compassion counts before God, not yours. Jesus saw how you struggled to keep God's laws. He saw how they were too heavy for you, and rather than load you with more laws, He took all of them on His back and kept everyone of them. Now God the Father looks at you and sees not one single broken Law. And Jesus saw judgment bearing down on you. He saw God's eternal wrath about to roast you forever, and He couldn't bear that. So, He stepped in front of the lightening bolt of God's wrath and took it in your place. In Jesus, God's wrath against your sins and sinfulness is satisfied, appeased, over and done with.
Big sigh of relief. What you could never get from overflowing with compassion you now have because Jesus has compassion on you. Let's look at this compassion because His compassion for us informs our compassion for others. Note that Jesus is concerned with the whole person soul and body. He took on flesh and blood to redeem not just our souls but these bodies. He went through not just spiritual suffering and death but physical because He had compassion not just on souls but bodies too. And He left us sacraments that bring redemption and compassion that we can see, hear, touch and taste with our bodies. My forgiveness, my clear conscience is found in Waters I can see; in Words I can hear, and in Jesus' Body and Blood that I can taste in Bread and Wine.
Jesus' compassion for you is for your whole person: soul and body. This informs the Church how She is to be compassionate. Long before they raced for cures, the Church ran to build hospitals. Long before pro sports was concerned for the community, the Church was feeding and clothing it. Long before corporate America got a conscience, the Church has been the conscience of government and business alike saying all human life is sacred because it comes from God.
The Church has always led the way in compassion, but 2 things She would never do. One, claim that Her compassion is righteousness before God. Two, put physical needs above spiritual. If you think your compassion is good enough before God, know that you are being led away from the righteousness, the forgiveness, the salvation that is in Jesus. If you think physical needs are above or even equal to spiritual, know that you're not paying attention to your Bible.
In our text, Jesus has compassion on the crowd not because they were hungry, naked, or oppressed by Rome but because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were lost sheep; they were outside the fold and would be devoured by wolves. Next week we will see Jesus feed them physically, but first He does so spiritually. However, when they reject His teaching and follow Him only for physical things, Jesus has no compassion on them but rebukes them severely.
But do notice that the text opens with Jesus having compassion for the exhausted disciples. He takes them away for physical rest. However, as soon as spiritual need shows up, He puts that spiritual need above His disciples' physical one. Your spiritual needs being met here - Baptism washing your guilty conscience; Absolution separating you from your sins; and Communion feeding your soul and body life and salvation - enable you to have compassion for the physical needs of others.
These three Baptism, Absolution, and Communion also do another very important thing. They protect you from the beating Satan tries to give you in a world awash in compassion. He beats you up with the high, noble compassion your community, pro sports and corporate America have because you know your compassion is tainted, insufficient, and wavering. Well, you don't stand before God, much less before men, based on your feeble works. Your standing is in Jesus, clothed by Jesus, with Jesus in you and you in Jesus. If anyone can find fault with Jesus, they can find fault with you. If they can't find fault with Jesus, and who can, then no one is able to find fault with you in Him. Let the world trumpet it's compassion; you trumpet Jesus' compassion for you---that endures world without end. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost IX (20060806); Mark 6:30-34