And [Jesus] came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).
If there were a time when it would have been perfectly understandable that Jesus would not have wanted anyone around, this would be it.
Opposition to His teachings was mounting (Matthew 12:1-45). At least some of His earthly family members thought that He was delusional and felt compelled to try to intervene (Matthew 12:46-50). He had returned to His hometown of Nazareth and was rejected by those with whom He had significant contact in His life (Matthew 13:53-58). And then word came that John the Baptist, the Elijah who prepared the way for the Lord, His cousin in the flesh, a kindred servant of God, one who understood rejection and the weariness involved in speaking truth to power, had been executed by Herod (Matthew 14:1-12).
It is little wonder, then, that Jesus takes out some time alone to pray (Matthew 14:13). We can only imagine the distress He might be feeling– the pain of rejection, grief over the death of His compatriot and cousin, and perhaps many other difficulties. Nevertheless, while He withdraws to pray, the people follow after Him to seek Him (Matthew 14:13). Even at a time like this there is little peace and little quiet. What would Jesus do?
We can imagine perhaps what we would do. We might lash out, taking out our distress on the people. If we had more control we might politely inform them of our difficulties and attempt to get some space.
Yet Jesus did no such thing. He sees the multitude, and while He might still be experiencing His distress, He also perceives the distress of those who have gathered to Him. He might be feeling pained, but He also knows that many of the people before Him have been experiencing great pain and distress for many years. He has compassion on them and heals those who are sick.
Jesus would later teach that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and this is a great example (Matthew 20:28). He was sent for a purpose, and the best way to endure the challenges and distress that came along with that purpose was to persevere. What He was experiencing was not really peculiar to Him; many people throughout time have experienced similar forms of rejection, grief, and pain. He looked to His Father for strength, received it, and continued to do the Father’s work.
The whole reason why Jesus mentioned that He came not to be served but to serve was to instruct His disciples that they were going to have to serve to fulfill God’s purposes in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28). To that end, therefore, Jesus’ example is a path for us all (1 John 2:6).
There will be times in our lives when we are going to be in great distress. We may have all sorts of bad news come at us in rapid succession. We may be rejected by some people and alienated from others. We might experience challenges relating to family, friends, and other people with whom we have frequent interaction. We may get news of the untimely end of someone whom we love deeply. There will be times of pain, distress, grief, and suffering.
What shall we do? It would be easy to withdraw and speak sharply to anyone who would disturb our quiet, but what does that really accomplish? We could attempt to politely decline opportunities to work with others, but what is the end of such things?
Jesus provides the way. Our pain and distress is real, and it must be handled as if it is real. As opposed to lashing out against others, or just letting it tear us up internally, we are to take it before God in prayer (1 Peter 5:7). We are not able to endure it on our own, but God has the strength to endure it and sustain us through it. Other people can provide sympathy; God can comfort you and give you peace (Colossians 3:15).
Then we must realize that others in our lives are also in pain and distress, and we do best to help serve them as Christ has served us. It is in service that we have the opportunity to lose ourselves so as to help others; our troubles and trials can be relegated to the back burner when we support others throughout theirs!
God has a purpose for us, and He guaranteed that we would experience times of distress (Acts 14:22, Ephesians 3:10-11). We can shut down and turn inward to our own hurt or we can reach out to God and then serve others, as Jesus did. Let us choose the path of Christ and serve despite distress!
Ethan R. Longhenry