Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 11 2020 - Matthew 14:13-36 – The cost of compassion

Yesterday's reading ended with John the Baptist being put to death so that a corrupt king might not break his drunken oath or lose face with his friends. When Jesus heard the news of John's death, "He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place" (Matthew 14:13). John was Jesus' cousin and had prepared the way for his ministry. Jesus must have been deeply saddened by John's execution. He wanted time on his own to grieve, to think and to pray.

But the crowds would not leave him alone. They walked round the lake to get to the spot where his boat would come ashore. How would Jesus react? We read, "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick" (14:14). Jesus does not remain in the boat while sending his disciples to disperse the crowd. He has compassion on the crowds and puts their needs before his own – he ministers to them: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (20:28).

Jesus' actions are remarkable; he heals and feeds the crowds when his own soul is aching. His ability to minister to others when needing comfort himself comes from his absolute confidence in his own mission. He is doing the work the Father has sent him to do and he is confident that his Father will provide him with the resources he needs: "I have food to eat that you know nothing about" (John 4:32).

Jesus calls us to follow him. We are to minister to others even when our own souls are aching. It’s a hard call. There have been many times when I just wanted to have time to myself – time to think, to pray to be restored. And there is nothing wrong with that. But how have I responded when others have come to me with their needs at such times? This is the moment of testing; am I sufficiently confident of the call of Christ upon my life that I can minister to others when I myself am in need? I am all too aware of my own failings in this area.

I am strangely encouraged by the story of Peter. He really is a man of extraordinary faith. He is not content to wait for Jesus to get into the boat; he wants to walk out on the stormy water to meet him. And at Jesus’ word of command he steps out of the boat and does walk on water. He is a man of great faith and strong determination to follow Christ – at least for a moment. But he is also a man who is quickly overwhelmed by the threatening storm and begins to sink. Jesus gently rebukes his lack of faith even as he grasps his hand and rescues him.

We need to recognise the uniqueness of Christ. Each of us is broken. Each of us is in need of the ministry of Christ by his Spirit. Each of us also needs the ministry of others; this too is the means by which Christ reaches out his hand to us. Each of us not only needs to feed Christ’s sheep, we also need to be fed. There is something deeply disturbing about Christian leaders who project themselves as those without needs; those always ready to minister but never needing ministry.

How then are we to retain the balance between an unfailing servant spirit, ready always to minister to others, and the very real need we each have to receive ministry? This is a continual challenge. The resolution needs to be found in the ministering community rather than in the lone super-minister. We, corporately, are the body of Christ.

Lord Jesus, you look right through the image I project to others to see my heart with all its weakness and failings. Restore my soul and strengthen me through the ministry I receive from others so that I also may minister tirelessly in your name.

Peter Misselbrook