Jesus has been teaching all day. He and his disciples have been walking from town to town preaching and healing. They’re dirty, hungry, and they’re feet hurt. To top it all off, Jesus had just heard that John the Baptist, his close friend and cousin, had been brutally beheaded by Herod. He needs some space, but the crowds don’t stop coming.
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Our Christian faith is far more than ethics, but the gospel always has social implications. Our words and actions matter. We don’t do good deeds to earn God’s grace. We do them BECAUSE we have have experienced his grace. When we remember his compassion toward us, our compassion towards others should flow like a river.
Take a look at these two passages again. In Ephesians, Paul gives the ethics. In Matthew, we see Christ living it out in real time. There is no room for apathy or standing on the sidelines.
It’s not enough to just not steal. Paul says not only must the thief stop stealing, he must also work so that he can give to those in need. It’s not enough to not let unwholesome talk come from your mouth. Instead we may say “only what is helpful for building others up.”
Now look at Jesus. Jesus could have simply ignored the crowd or avoided them. That would have been a fairly neutral response, certainly better than yelling at them to get away or harboring bitterness for their incessant pestering. But Jesus went a step further, he had compassion on them. He healed their sick. And then, when in their ignorance they had stayed out too late and were weary and hungry, he again went the extra mile and provided food for them at his own expense. The type of behavior Paul is admonishing the Ephesians to have, is modeled after Jesus’s own behavior.
We must strive to put aside anger, malice, and bitterness, but being neutral toward others is not enough. The Jesus we follow is full of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. He seeks to give to those in need and build up those he meets. We should remember our own gracious salvation and do likewise.