Thursday, February 02, 2012

Feeding the Crowd

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Throughout the gospels Jesus has encounters with crowds of people. As I was listening to the narrative of the feeding of the 5000 last week, two phrases struck me.

In Matthew's telling of the narrative he says

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

Mark makes a similar statement when he says

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. ~ Mark 6:34

Normally when I hear passages that reference the crowd I think of the demands of ministry. I have been in full time ministry for nearly 20 years now. I've worked with many different congregations and organisations. I know about the way that God can feed others through the loaves and fishes of my life when I offer them to Him.

Last week however I didn't think about the external crowd but instead I found myself reflecting on the internal crowd, the wants, desires, dreams and fears that I carry around with me wherever I go. I've tried to cultivate the parts of my internal crowd that I label as good, and starve the parts I call bad.

The idea of Jesus looking at all of my internal maelstrom and having compassion on it struck me. I rarely do the same. I get frustrated at attitudes, embarrassed by desires, paralysed by fears, driven by dreams. I spend more time judging my internal crowd rather than having compassion on it. My operating system was more concerned with Denial and Detachment than anything else. Chasing after the good and turning a blind eye to everything else.

I'm feeling the call to learn how to interact with the crowd instead of just reacting to it. Learning how to let Jesus heal and teach. It gets complicated. Even my labels of 'Good' and 'Bad' have to be revisited. What I think are good dreams can actually just be methods of avoidance. What I think are bad desires can actually be cries for healing when I stop and listen to them. The desire to workout can be driven by health or by vanity. What I'm discovering is that most of my crowd do not fit neatly into Good or Bad categories anymore.

It's a tiring challenge, no wonder Jesus often went off by himself! Contemplative worship and practices give me a chance to allow the crowd to settle down so I can begin to get a look at them without them running around everywhere.

I love how the disciples are surprised when Jesus tells them to feed the crowd.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” ~ Mark 6: 35-37

Up to that point they never considered that the welfare of the crowd was their responsibility. They wanted Jesus to tell the crowd to leave. He commands them to feed the crowd instead. I wish my internal crowd would leave. I'm sensing that Jesus offers the same challenge to me as he did to the disciples, and that it will also take a miracle. I don't know what it means to feed my crowd. I do know that it will look very different to what I expect, and that somehow, my crowd will one day be satisfied.

Imagine all your attitudes, desires, fears, dreams...all standing together like a crowd on a hillside. As you scan their faces, what names come to mind? Pride, Ego, Lust. Esteem, Money, Insecurity.... Who is in need of healing? Who is in need of teaching? How can you treat your crowd with compassion?


Lori Anderson said...

Peter, thank you for your words. It gives the term "crowd control" a whole new meaning. Often, I treat my inner crowd like a lion tamer, keeping them at bay with a whip and a chair. Looking forward to hearing you share this tomorrow.

JWebb said...

Well said, Peter. Right on target.