There are multiple accounts in the Bible of Jesus feeding thousands of men, women, and children with only a small amount of food (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6). When we hear these accounts from Scripture, we often focus on the fact that what He did was miraculous, and while that is certainly true, we must not miss the point that what Jesus did also met a physical need.
In Matthew 14, the disciples came to Jesus and suggested that he send the crowds away to go buy food for themselves. But Jesus had another plan. He told the disciples to give the people something to eat. Jesus intended to meet the physical need of the crowd, and that is exactly what He did.
Jesus often spoke of caring for the poor and meeting peoples’ needs. He challenged His disciples – and us – to have compassion and mercy for the people around them. In Luke 6:36 we are admonished, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Loving like Jesus means that our hearts need to beat with compassion for those in need around us. People may have physical, emotional, or spiritual needs, but regardless of their needs, we need to seek to meet those needs out of genuine love. For some of us, mercy comes easy; for others, it takes greater effort. No matter where we fall in that spectrum, we are commanded to show mercy.
Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus praised a Samaritan (whom the Jews did not even like) for the way that he showed compassion to a stranger. What the Good Samaritan did was meet the physical needs of an injured man. He not only stopped and helped him on the side of the road, but he went the extra step of taking him to an inn and paying for him to stay there. Jesus applauded the actions that stemmed from this man’s compassion.
How willing are we to reach out like the Good Samaritan did and meet the needs of others – especially when it might be costly or inconvenient? Are we intentionally looking for the needs around us? While we might prioritize meeting spiritual needs, the act of meeting someone’s physical need is often the very thing that opens the door for sharing the gospel.
This week I read an incredible story about a Jewish Rabbi who was repeatedly threatened by a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan back in the early 1990s. The Rabbi’s response was unexpected. He reached out in kindness to the Klan member, who he found out was a diabetic amputee confined to a wheelchair. He actually offered to help the man shop for groceries. Through the influence of the Rabbi, the Klan member eventually resigned from the Ku Klux Klan and sent apologies to people he had harassed. Ultimately, he actually moved in with the Rabbi and his wife, who cared for him until he died of complications from diabetes. This amazing account reiterates the truth that reaching out in kindness can have a profound impact on someone’s life.
Ultimately, our goal is not just to meet physical needs. Our goal is to bring the light of the gospel into the darkness of peoples’ lives. Without a life transformed by the grace of Christ, people are still without hope. But meeting a physical need may be the means by which someone becomes receptive to listening to what we have to share.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus frequently met physical needs, which then led to people following after Him. If we are going to love like Jesus, we must pray for eyes to see the needs of people around us and for hearts of compassion that will lead us to action.