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.
Have you ever read this verse and stopped to check yourself regarding what you’ve read? This verse actually occurs quite a number of times in the Bible, in different forms of paraphrase. Isn’t it odd? Well, odd may be the wrong word, but shocking, perhaps? Jesus’ greatest compassion to the people was to teach them. Not to heal them, not to perform miracles, not to cry with them. Teach them. Preach to them. In this study, we will examine why exactly is teaching the people the greatest act of compassion that Christ had for us, and how teaching others the word of God is the best thing we can do for others.
The context to this verse is actually a situation we are very familiar with. John the Baptist, a cousin (or second cousin) of Jesus had just been beheaded by King Herod, and Jesus was saddened about it. The people, however, were constantly looking for him and coming to him to see him – I would too, if there’s someone unusual in town and doing all kinds of odd things and preaching about things that I’ve never heard before. Jesus desired some peace that he probably needed at that time, and decided to bring his disciples away for some quiet time to rest. Alas, the everyman is a paparazzi culture was already in place 2000 years ago – those who saw them leaving recognised them, and actually arrived at the ‘quiet’ place ahead of them. Jesus wanted some quiet time, wanted some peace, but when he looked on and saw the people, he had compassion on them, and instead of sending them away so that he could get the rest that he wanted, he began to preach. His preaching lasted a long while, and the people became hungry. Jesus fed them in one of the most well-known miracles in the gospel.
sheep without a shepherd – the sheep and the shepherd is one of the most common analogies used in the Bible to symbolise the Lord and his people. I’m a city kid, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never seen a sheep before; and I’ve never seen a shepherd before, but from what I’ve heard, from what I’ve read, sheep aren’t the smartest creatures in the world. Without a shepherd to guide them, they will get lost. Without a shepherd to fend off the wild, they will get eaten by their predators. Without a shepherd to find green pastures for them, they will starve. When Jesus saw the large crowd, that was what he saw. Can you imagine five thousand people gathering – stalking a man and his companions, all the way to some random solitary place? No publicity, no promises, no nothing. Today we hold a talk or a concert and we pour so much money into the publicity and in securing a premium location just so that a few hundreds may appear. Back then, no such efforts were required. People came surging to Jesus in flocks. Though it’s probably a fair guess that amongst all that five thousand, a huge chunk of people don’t really know what they are doing when they jumped onto the bandwagon to follow this man. This is probably an effect of the crowd phenomenon – you see a crowd, you’ll naturally want to be part of the crowd.
he had compassion on them – Jesus saw the needs of others above his own needs, once again. He wanted to rest, he needed to rest. It was perhaps the first emotionally trying point in his ministry when John the Baptist, his cousin, the forebringer, the pathmaker was beheaded by Herod. But should he send them away, he would be sending these five thousand people back into the wilderness. Back to the wolves, where they will be eaten. Back to the desert, where they won’t find food. Back to darkness, where they will be lost. Our Lord saw their needs, placed their needs above his, and gave them what they needed. He preached.
So he began teaching them many things – The first thing he did wasn’t to perform some miracles and start healing the sick or start feeding them. The first thing he did was to teach them many things. That is Jesus’ act of compassion for the people. To teach. That is shepherding. That is guiding them back to God, that is equipping them with God words so that they will be able to fend off their enemies and their temptations. That is pointing them to where the food is. That is what they needed. That is the best thing a leader can do for his people. That is the best thing an older person can do for a youngster. Teach the word of God.
If we do not have the word of God in our hearts, we are but just like sheep without a shepherd. It is sad. Like how Jesus had compassion for those five thousand people, let us learn to have compassion for those who do not have the word of God in their lives. It is not just our responsibility to teach the word of God. It is also an act of compassion.