THERESA BRIONES IS A TENDER, loving mother. She also has a stout left hook that she used to punch a lady in a coin laundry. Why’d she do it?
Some kids were making fun of Theresa’s daughter, Alicia.
Alicia is bald. Her knees are arthritic. Her nose is pinched. Her hips are creaky. Her hearing is bad. She has the stamina of a seventy-year-old. And she is only ten.
“Mom,” the kids taunted, “come and look at the monster!”
Alicia weighs only twenty-two pounds and is shorter than most preschoolers. She suffers from progeria—a genetic aging disease that strikes one child in eight million. The life expectancy of progeria victims is twenty years. There are only fifteen known cases of this disease in the world.
“She is not an alien. She is not a monster,” Theresa defended. “She is just like you and me.”
Mentally, Alicia is a bubbly, fun-loving third grader. She has a long list of friends. She watches television in a toddler-sized rocking chair. She plays with Barbie dolls and teases her younger brother.
Theresa has grown accustomed to the glances and questions. She is patient with the constant curiosity. Genuine inquiries she accepts. Insensitive slanders she does not.
The mother of the finger-pointing children came to investigate. “I see ‘it,’” she told the kids.
“My child is not an ‘it,’” Theresa stated. Then she decked the woman.
Who could blame her? Such is the nature of parental love. Mothers and fathers have a God-given ability to love their children regardless of imperfections. Not because the parents are blind. Just the opposite. They see vividly.
Theresa sees Alicia’s inability as clearly as anyone. But she also sees Alicia’s value.
So does God.
God sees us with the eyes of a Father. He sees our defects, errors, and blemishes. But he also sees our value.
Two chapters ago, I closed with this question: What did Jesus know that enabled him to do what he did?
Here’s part of the answer. He knew the value of people. He knew that each human being is a treasure. And because he did, people were not a source of stress, but a source of joy.
When Jesus lands on the shore of Bethsaida, he leaves the Sea of Galilee and steps into a sea of humanity. Keep in mind, he has crossed the sea to get away from the crowds. He needs to grieve. He longs to relax with his followers. He needs anything but another crowd of thousands to teach and heal.
But his love for people overcomes his need for rest.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
It is doubtful that anyone in the crowd thinks to ask Jesus how he is doing. There is no indication that anyone is concerned with how Jesus is feeling. No one has come to give; all have come to take.
In our house we call 5:00 P.M. the piranha hour. That’s the time of day when everyone wants a piece of Mom. Sara, the baby, is hungry. Andrea wants Mom to read her a book. Jenna wants help with her homework. And I—the ever-loving, ever-sensitive husband—want Denalyn to drop everything and talk to me about my day.
When is your piranha hour? When do people in your world demand much and offer little?
Every boss has had a day in which the requests outnumber the results. There’s not a businessperson alive who hasn’t groaned as an armada of assignments docks at his or her desk. For the teacher, the piranha hour often begins when the first student enters and ends when the last student leaves.
Piranha hours: parents have them, bosses endure them, secretaries dread them, teachers are besieged by them, and Jesus taught us how to live through them successfully.
When hands extended and voices demanded, Jesus responded with love. He did so because the code within him disarmed the alarm. The code is worth noting: “People are precious.”
I can hear somebody raising an objection at this point. “Yes, but it was easier for Jesus. He was God. He could do more than I can. After all, he was divine.”
True, Jesus was equally God and man. But don’t be too quick to dismiss what he did. Consider his loving response from another angle.
Consider that, along with his holy strength, he also had a holy awareness. There were no secrets on the mountain that day; Jesus knew the hearts of each person. He knew why they were there and what they would do.
Matthew writes that Jesus “healed their sick.” Not some of their sick. Not the righteous among the sick. Not the deserving among the sick. But “the sick.”
Surely, among the many thousands, there were a few people unworthy of good health.
The same divinity that gave Jesus the power to heal also gave him the power to perceive. I wonder if Jesus was tempted to say to the rapist, “Heal you? After what you’ve done?” Or to the child molester, “Why should I restore your health?” Or to the bigot, “Get out of here, buddy, and take your arrogance with you.”
And he could see not only their past, he could see their future.
Undoubtedly, there were those in the multitude who would use their newfound health to hurt others. Jesus released tongues that would someday curse. He gave sight to eyes that would lust. He healed hands that would kill.
Many of those he healed would never say “thank you,” but he healed them anyway. Most would be more concerned with being healthy than being holy, but he healed them anyway. Some of those who asked for bread today would cry for his blood a few months later, but he healed them anyway.
Jesus chose to do what you and I seldom, if ever, choose to do. He chose to give gifts to people, knowing full well that those gifts could be used for evil.
Don’t be too quick to attribute Jesus’ compassion to his divinity. Remember both sides. For each time Jesus healed, he had to overlook the future and the past.
Something, by the way, that he still does.
Have you noticed that God doesn’t ask you to prove that you will put your salary to good use? Have you noticed that God doesn’t turn off your oxygen supply when you misuse his gifts? Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t give you only that which you remember to thank him for? (Has it been a while since you thanked God for your spleen? Me, too. But I still have one.)
God’s goodness is spurred by his nature, not by our worthiness.
Someone asked an associate of mine, “What biblical precedent do we have to help the poor who have no desire to become Christians?”
My friend responded with one word: “God.”
God does it daily, for millions of people.
What did Jesus know that allowed him to do what he did? What internal code kept his calm from erupting into chaos? He knew the value of people.
Interestingly, the stress seen that day is not on Jesus’ face, but on the faces of the disciples. “Send the crowds away,” they demand. Fair request. “After all,” they are saying, “you’ve taught them. You’ve healed them. You’ve accommodated them. And now they’re getting hungry. If we don’t send them away, they’ll want you to feed them, too!”
I wish I could have seen the expression on the disciples’ faces when they heard the Master’s response. “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
I used to think that this was a rhetorical request. I used to think that Jesus knew the disciples couldn’t feed the crowd, but that he asked them anyway. I used to think that it was a “test” to teach them to rely on God for what they couldn’t do.
I don’t see it like that anymore.
I still think it was a test—not a test to show them what they couldn’t do, but a test to demonstrate what they could do. After all, they had just gone on tour achieving the impossible. Jesus is asking them to do it again. “You give them something to eat.”
I wish I could tell you that the disciples did it. I wish I could say that they knew God wouldn’t ask them to do something he wouldn’t empower them to do, so they fed the crowd. I wish I could tell you that the disciples miraculously fed the five thousand men plus women and children.
But I can’t … because they didn’t.
Rather than look to God, they looked in their wallets. “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“Y-y-y-you’ve got to be kidding.”
“He can’t be serious.”
“It’s one of Jesus’ jokes.”
“Do you know how many people are out there?”
Eyes watermelon-wide. Jaws dangling open. One ear hearing the din of the crowd, the other the command of God.
Don’t miss the contrasting views. When Jesus saw the people, he saw an opportunity to love and affirm value. When the disciples saw the people, they saw thousands of problems.
Also, don’t miss the irony. In the midst of a bakery—in the presence of the Eternal Baker—they tell the “Bread of Life” that there is no bread.
How silly we must appear to God.
Here’s where Jesus should have given up. This is the point in the pressure-packed day where Jesus should have exploded. The sorrow, the life threats, the exuberance, the crowds, the interruptions, the demands, and now this. His own disciples can’t do what he asks them. In front of five thousand men, they let him down.
“Beam me up, Father,” should have been Jesus’ next words. But they weren’t. Instead he inquires, “How many loaves do you have?”
The disciples bring him a little boy’s lunch. A lunch pail becomes a banquet, and all are fed. No word of reprimand is given. No furrowed brow of anger is seen. No “I-told-you-so” speech is delivered. The same compassion Jesus extends to the crowd is extended to his friends.
Look at this day one more time. Review what our Lord faced.
Intense sorrow—the death of a dear friend and relative.
Immediate threat—his name is on the wanted poster.
Immeasurable joy—a homecoming with his followers.
Immense crowds—a Niagara of people followed him everywhere.
Insensitive interruptions—he sought rest and got people.
Incredible demands—crowds of thousands clamored for his touch.
Inept assistance—the one and only time he asked for help, he got a dozen “you’re-pulling-my-leg” expressions.
But the calm within Christ never erupted. The alarm never sounded. What did Jesus know that enabled him to do what he did? He knew the incredible value of people. As a result:
- He didn’t stamp his feet and demand his own way.
- He didn’t tell the disciples to find another beach where there were no people.
- He didn’t ask the crowds why they hadn’t brought their own food.
- He didn’t send the apostles back into the field for more training.
- Most important, he stayed calm in the midst of chaos. He even paused, in the midst of it all, to pray a prayer of thanks.
A boy went into a pet shop, looking for a puppy. The store owner showed him a litter in a box. The boy looked at the puppies. He picked each one up, examined it, and put it back into the box.
After several minutes, he walked back to the owner and said, “I picked one out. How much will it cost?”
The man gave him the price, and the boy promised to be back in a few days with the money. “Don’t take too long,” the owner cautioned. “Puppies like these sell quickly.”
The boy turned and smiled knowingly, “I’m not worried,” he said. “Mine will still be here.”
The boy went to work—weeding, washing windows, cleaning yards. He worked hard and saved his money. When he had enough for the puppy, he returned to the store.
He walked up to the counter and laid down a pocketful of wadded bills. The store owner sorted and counted the cash. After verifying the amount, he smiled at the boy and said, “All right, son, you can go get your puppy.”
The boy reached into the back of the box, pulled out a skinny dog with a limp leg, and started to leave.
The owner stopped him.
“Don’t take that puppy,” he objected. “He’s crippled. He can’t play. He’ll never run with you. He can’t fetch. Get one of the healthy pups.”
“No thank you, sir,” the boy replied. “This is exactly the kind of dog I’ve been looking for.”
As the boy turned to leave, the store owner started to speak but remained silent. Suddenly he understood. For extending from the bottom of the boy’s trousers was a brace—a brace for his crippled leg.
Why did the boy want the dog? Because he knew how it felt. And he knew it was very special.
What did Jesus know that enabled him to do what he did? He knew how the people felt, and he knew that they were special.
I hope you never forget that.
Jesus knows how you feel. You’re under the gun at work? Jesus knows how you feel. You’ve got more to do than is humanly possible? So did he. You’ve got children who make a “piranha hour” out of your dinner hour? Jesus knows what that’s like. People take more from you than they give? Jesus understands. Your teenagers won’t listen? Your students won’t try? Your employees give you blank stares when you assign tasks? Believe me, friend, Jesus knows how you feel.
You are precious to him. So precious that he became like you so that you would come to him.
When you struggle, he listens. When you yearn, he responds. When you question, he hears. He has been there. You’ve heard that before, but you need to hear it again.
He loves you with the love of a Theresa Briones.
He understands you with the compassion of the crippled boy.
Like Theresa, he battles with hell itself to protect you.
And, like the boy, he paid a great price to take you home.