Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. ~ Matthew: 14:13-14
For the past three months, we have withdrawn into isolation to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, Covid-19. We have been on lockdown with the people we love the most, but we miss gathering with our friends, our church family, and our schoolmates. We miss attending events that mark and celebrate milestones in our lives. We have missed dining in our favorite restaurants, and finally setting the date for that wedding.
All of a sudden, large crowds are gathering in our streets, almost as if the virus no longer exists. This was all triggered by the murder of George Floyd, an African American male, who was murdered by cops in Minnesota. While this is what triggered the numerous protests happening around the United States, and the world, the issue is much deeper. It’s not just about the murder of George Floyd, but the continuous injustice that People of Color face in America. Of course, not everyone is out protesting with the right agenda, because there are always people with selfish agendas.
We all have different opinions on the reality of these crowds gathering, some of us might even go as far as saying it’s unnecessary. We might even agree with the President for calling in the national guard and the armed forces to take control. Some might even agree with his tweet, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. You might even have a problem with the phrase “Black lives matter” because you think there is an assumption that no other life matters. The bottom line is, the crowd is gathering in response to something they fear even more than a deadly virus.
In Matthew chapter 14, there is an account of a crowd gathering in response to the murder of one of their leaders, John. John was imprisoned because he warned Herod that it was unlawful for him to have his brother Philip’s, wife. Initially, Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people because they considered John a prophet. Herod eventually delivered John’s head on a platter as a gift to his daughter.
The gospel further tells us that upon hearing the news of John’s beheading, Jesus withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he returned he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them, cured their sickness, and fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. We are uncertain about the agenda of this crowd. I am sure many were distraught by the death of John and wanted to seek justice. Perhaps they were gathering to protest and possibly there was some rioting too. Perhaps they needed another leader to follow. Regardless of the reasons behind the large gathering, it’s the way Jesus responded that separated him from the other leaders.
As my good friend Reverend Griffin reflected on this passage recently, he wrote, “it’s tempting to focus our attention on the miracle of the matter, and miss the turning point of the story where Jesus reacted to the crowd with compassion.” I couldn’t agree more.
In the same way, it is tempting for us to react with judgment at the crowds gathering in cities around the country to protest rather than to react with compassion.
While we may not like the crowd gathering to protest, quietly or angrily, perhaps we can react with compassion. While we may like or dislike how our leaders are approaching the matter, perhaps we can react with compassion. Perhaps we can respond with compassion towards a child who just lost her father, a mother who just lost her son, and a family torn apart because we fail to treat each other with human dignity. Perhaps we can respond with compassion to those who have suffered for generations and are crying out for equal rights and justice.
Let Us Pray
Loving God, forgive me for not loving like you want me to. Forgive me for continuously failing to stand up for the voiceless in our society. Forgive me for my lack of compassion towards my brothers and sisters, especially my black siblings. Cleanse my heart and teach me to love the way you love me, with all my flaws and imperfections. Clothe me with compassion towards others, and let it Radiate from my action and my deeds. Amen