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Center for Action and Contemplation

Creating a Community of Compassion and Belonging

Sunday, September 17, 2023

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. —Matthew 14:14  

This week of meditations begins with a homily from Richard Rohr on Matthew 14:13–21. He describes how Jesus created a community of compassion:  

The gospel passage is quite good and delightful because it tells us very directly what God is about. Jesus is all about meeting immediate needs, right here and right now. There’s no mention of heaven at all. It seems we’ve missed the point of what the Christian religion should be about, but we see how the disciples themselves missed the point: “Tell them to go to the village and take care of themselves” (Matthew 14:15). But Jesus does not leave people on their own!  

Look at the setting. Jesus is tired. The gospel begins with him withdrawing to a deserted place to be by himself. Sure enough, the crowds follow after him, but he doesn’t get angry or send them away. He recognizes the situation and moves to deal with it. Then the passage goes further and states, “His heart was moved with pity” (Matthew 14:14). If Jesus is our image of God, then we know God has feelings for human pain, human need, and even basic human hunger. The gospel records that he cured the sick, so we know God is also about healing, what today we call healthcare. Sometimes, we don’t even believe everyone deserves that either! Jesus says, “There is no need for them to go away. We will feed them” (Matthew 14:16). 

The point in all the healing stories of the gospels is not simply that Jesus can work miracles. It is not for us to be astounded that Jesus can turn five loaves and two fish into enough for five thousand people, not counting women and children. That is pretty amazing, and I wish we could do it ourselves, but what Jesus does quite simply is feed people’s immediate needs. He doesn’t talk to them about spiritual things, heavenly things, or churchy things. He doesn’t give a sermon about going to church. He does not tell us what things we are supposed to be upset about today. He knows that we can’t talk about spiritual things until we take away people’s immediate physical hunger. When so much of the world is living at a mere survival level, how can we possibly talk about spiritual things?

The important thing that God seems to want to be doing in history is to create a community of compassion where people care about one another. It is not only the feeding that matters to us, it is also the caring for other people’s hunger and needs. Jesus never once talked about attending church services, but he talked constantly about healing the sick and feeding the hungry. That is what it seems to mean to be a follower of Jesus.  


Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Creating a Community of Compassion,” homily, August 8, 2014, MP3 audio.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Transfiguration (detail), cyanotype, used with permission. Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah, ink, used with permission. Alma Thomas, The Eclipse, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image

The rounded lines of mother and child echo the compassion we express toward others. 

Story from Our Community:  

I am in the midst of losing my husband to vascular dementia. Sometimes he thinks I am his mother and sometimes just a nice lady. Recently, I found my faith and patience crumbling when his incessant questions circled again and again and I could not calm him down. Finally, at my wits end, I surrendered to a 9-day sacred prayer process. Calling on the Holy One to aid me, I prayed that I would be provided with compassion, love, and the ability to care for him. After 9 days, I let go and allowed it to be. That was nearly 4 months ago. Each day is a cycle of questions, repeated many times. I no longer care how many times I answer them. Compassion fills my heart. Love encircles us. Peace prevails. —Katherine B. 

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