In our Gospel reading today, we get an insight into what Jesus’ ministry was like, and the impact it had. How the crowds flocked to Jesus from all the regions surrounding Galilee to hear Jesus preach, to bring the sick to be healed and the demon possessed to be delivered.
So many people flocked to Jesus that he ordered his disciples to get a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him, such was the hunger and desire people had to be near Jesus.
The response to Jesus was huge, and one of the reasons why was because of the compassion Jesus had for these people. In Mark 6:34 we read “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.”
Jesus had compassion and love for all people, for the sick, the lost, the lonely, the homeless, the disposed, everyone, and he never turned anyone away.
When Jesus visited the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth he laid out his manifesto, quoting from Isaiah 61. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4:18-19)
He longed for people to be healed in body, mind and spirit, and in fulfilling this manifesto he met all kinds of people in all sorts of places, in synagogues, in boats, in towns, in the countryside, in busy places, in lonely places. However crowded or under pressure, he always has time for people, and he never turned anyone away.
How does this compare to the church today? How does this compare to us as Jesus’ disciples? Do we show the same love, concern and compassion as Jesus demonstrated? Do we make time for people in need, and what about people who are different to us, who have different views and opinions to us?
Reading the gospels what strikes me is that the people who objected to Jesus the most were the religious people, the scribes and the Pharisees. They didn’t like the things Jesus did, they didn’t approve of the people he would hang out with, because as far as they were concerned they were the wrong sort of people. They were tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners.
How different are we to the scribes and Pharisees? Would we welcome the outcast and the stranger if they came to our church today?
Last week at the clergy conference the former Bishop of Rhode Island, the Rt Revd Geralyn Wolf spoke about her experience of living as a homeless person for 30 days.
She changed her name, her accent and her appearance and moved into a homeless shelter in her diocese. In the homeless shelter, she found acceptance and love amongst a group of very diverse people.
During her time in the shelter she visited a number of churches in her diocese, including the Cathedral, to see how she would be treated. But because she’d changed her appearance, and accent, she wasn’t recognised.
What she found is that in many of the churches she visited (but not all), she was often ignored. She visited one church because she was hungry, and she knew they served breakfast, but found she couldn’t afford it, because they charged $5, and no one thought of offering her the food for free, but they did invite her to attend a Bible study! I suspect all of those churches she visited, believed they were welcoming, open communities.
Jesus had love and compassion for all he met. He didn’t expect people to come to him, but he went in search of them, on the sea shore, in the market place, hiding in a tree, or sitting by the well. And however crowded, or under pressure he was, he always had time for people, he never turned anyone away.
The calling of the Christian faith is to follow the example of Jesus Christ. How do we compare to him?
Let us pray
Open my eyes that I may see the deepest needs of men, women and children
Move my hands that they may feed the hungry;
Touch my heart that it may bring warmth to the despairing;
Teach me the generosity that welcomes strangers;
Let me share my possessions with people in need;
Give me the care that strengthens the sick;
Help me share in the quest to set prisoners free;
In sharing our anxieties and our love,
Our poverty and our prosperity;
We partake of your divine presence. Amen.