Leading Others Beyond Themselves

The way Jesus taught compassion to his disciples is rich food for thought when we want to help someone learn to care for other people.

Jeff was already thirty minutes late for our weekly breakfast appointment. This was the second time in a month! I went ahead and ordered.

Later he called and mumbled something about an emergency at work. He said he had asked his wife to call me, but she forgot.

“That’s okay,” I said. “See you next week?”

“Sure! I’m really looking forward to it!”

I had been spending time with Jeff to help train him to share his faith, but it seemed we were getting nowhere. Jeff is a busy fellow—often too busy to take time with others. How can I impart to him the vision of sharing God’s love by taking an interest in the concerns of other people? He seems excited about our meetings—whenever he comes. How should I respond to him?

Imparting this vision of concern for others was a priority in Jesus’ ministry to the twelve disciples. Beginning in Mark 6:30, we read how they were regathering around Jesus after their “two-by-two” preaching experience. They shared glowing reports of victory, but Jesus saw something more. He sensed the strain they had been through. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place,” he said, “and get some rest.”

If I were their leader, I might have sent them right out again just to keep the momentum going. But Jesus chose this special time to model compassion for them. They could see that “as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

Did the disciples catch on? What happened next shows that at first they didn’t.

They crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat to the “quiet place” Jesus spoke about, but the crowds had run ahead of them on foot around the shore. When the disciples landed, they were met not by serenity, but by a flood of humanity. How would Jesus handle this intrusion?

Once again he took the opportunity to bring home his lesson for the disciples: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”

How were these people like “sheep without a shepherd”? Hadn’t the disciples just recently ministered among them with great success, preaching and healing and driving out demons? What more must the disciples do to become shepherds of these people?

This one thing the disciples lacked: compassion.

They were becoming impatient. “Send the people away,” they whispered to Jesus, “so they can go buy themselves something to eat.” No doubt the disciples were more concerned about their own peace and quiet than the people’s hunger.

But the Master’s plan was to lead the Twelve beyond themselves. An opportunity had come to teach them more about compassion, and Jesus would not pass it up.

He had begun, as we have noted, by modeling compassion himself—first to the disciples and then to the crowds. The next step was to put the responsibility for the crowd’s need on the shoulders of the disciples. “You give them something to eat,” he said.

Shocked by this response; the disciples answered that this would “take eight months of a man’s wages!” It was right for them to take inventory of their resources, but they were blind to their true total assets. Their faith in God’s storehouse was too small.

What did they have? “Go and see,” Jesus told them. When they looked, they found only a single lunch. The five loaves and two fish could be translated as five muffins and two sardines. In other words, they didn’t have much.

Undaunted by the great need and the apparently scarce resources, Jesus directed the disciples to seat the people in groups on the grass. The people may have thought this was a strange request, but they did as they were told. Of course, sitting on the grass in groups didn’t satisfy their hunger. Organization was not the solution, but only preparation for the solution. Their obedience and cooperation were necessary for what would happen next.

Giving thanks for what they did have, Jesus in faith began dispensing their assets. The crowd’s need was met beyond their wildest expectations. “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.”

Did the disciples learn compassion from this incident? In Acts 3:1-6 we read about Peter and John being asked for money by a man who had been crippled from birth. Peter responded, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.”

The patient steps Jesus took to impart compassion to his disciples began with his own compassion for them. This lesson also involved rebuke, challenge, organization, prayer, and delegation, but his own example was the starting point. It takes compassionate leaders to produce compassionate disciples.

Keith White

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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