Her name was Kitty Genovese (1937-1964). In 1964, she lived in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York City. In March 13 of that year, Winston Moseley (1935-2016) stabbed her to death. As shocking as that crime was, the reaction, or the lack of reaction, of her neighbors was even worse. Many heard her cry out for help, but no one responded. Her neighbors were guilty of a sin of omission. They knew there was a problem but did nothing to prevent or stop it. In the science of sociology, it has been called the by-standers effect or diffusion of responsibility. I would like to say it was an isolated case, but it happens all the time. Our world is crying out for help, but very few respond. It is sad but true. That leads us to our scripture lesson.
We are in the first thirteen verses of the sixth chapter of John. Jesus is in Galilea, which means his popularity was high. According to the text, Jesus went to the side of a mountain with his disciples. From that high elevation, he saw the crowd that had been following him. The Master was popular because the news of his miracles was common knowledge. He made the lame walk, the blind see, the demoniac whole. He, in time, would resurrect a dead man named Lazarus. Those miracles were important to the masses because everyone needs to believe there is hope. Instead of resting on his laurels, Jesus seized the opportunity to challenge his disciples. In verse five, we are told Jesus looked at Phillip and asked, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?” Phillip does the math and admits the funds are not available. It would take eight months wages to buy enough bread. He was right, yet he was wrong. Money was not the only one option. There is always God. Never underestimate the power of God. By the end of the day, everyone was physically satisfied, and the power of God was obvious.
This story teaches us two divine truths. First, with God all things are possible. How else can you explain how Jesus fed 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two small fish? It must be from God. Second, it reminds us that Jesus cared not just about the spiritual needs of people, the Master cared for their physical needs too. He could have sent them away hungry, and no one would have cared. This is the question you must answer: how concerned are you about the physical needs of our world? Our world is crying out for help. How are you going to respond?
Never forget, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. That means you are supposed to be a little more like Jesus every day. Are you striving to be like Jesus, or are you satisfied with your present state? Do you care about the needy of this world, or are you preoccupied with yourself? In this blog, I am going to ask you three questions. I warn you up front, they may make you a little uncomfortable because they are so revealing. These questions were originally asked by United Methodist clergyman James W. Moore (1938-2019). This is question number one.
Do you see others like Jesus? When Jesus looked and saw the multitude surrounding him, he saw their need. They were hungry. Jesus knew they had to be fed because they didn’t have resources to feed themselves. Jesus didn’t just care about their spiritual needs, Jesus cared about their physical needs too. Do you see the physical needs of others, or do you look the other way? Many in our times would have said the hungry crowd was foolish. “They should have known better and packed their own lunch.” Do you see the physical needs of others? Do you see others like Jesus? This is question number two.
Are you empathic like Jesus? When Jesus looked at the hungry multitude, he was empathic. Webster defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In other words, Jesus didn’t just see the hungry multitude, he shared in the emotions. In other words, he felt their pain. Do you feel the pain of those who are less fortunate than you? Do you worry more about your family pet’s happiness or the basic needs of human beings? Do you look at people, or do you look through people? Are you empathic like Jesus? This is question number three.
Are you compassionate like Jesus? In the nineth chapter of Matthew, Jesus is once again traveling through Galilea. He encountered many along the way. In Matthew 9:36, it says, “Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were harassed and helpless.” Never underestimate the compassion of Jesus. Compassion is defined as the response to the suffering of others that motivates people to help. While empathy leads to feeling compassion leads to action. You are supposed to be making a difference in this world in the name of Jesus, so what are you doing to eliminate human suffering? How compassionate are you? Are you compassionate like Jesus?
Nearly fifty years ago, I had the great fortune to travel with my church youth group to Great Britain. I have many wonderful memories of that trip, but one stood out as I wrote this blog. We were walking through the heart of London. Without warning it began to rain. Everyone began to hustle to stay dry. When we got to an intersection, the rain intensified. Shoulder to shoulder, everyone began to run. Then, someone in front of me slipped on the wet pavement. When I got to the spot, I found a homeless man in the middle of the intersection. He was the picture of despair. He was soaking wet, crying, the knee of his pants was torn out. Some people yelled at him to get out of the way. Others ignored him, but a friend of mine was helping him. He had his arm around the stranger, covering him with his own coat. In the next few minutes, he got the man up and out of the street. He placed him near a building, which offered him some shelter from the rain. My friend offered the needy stranger some money and walked away. The homeless man simply said, “Thank-you.” Later, we asked our friend about that experience. He simply responded, “It was the right thing to do. I couldn’t just leave him in the street calling for help. It just wasn’t the right thing to do.”
It wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the Christian thing to do. Many in our world have fallen, and no one is helping them up. Our world is filled with problems and the victims are crying for help. It is not a matter of physical deafness. It is a matter of lack of caring. Do you care about the needy in our world, or are you too preoccupied with yourself? Actor Jackie Chan (born 1954) once said, “Sometimes it only takes one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life.” Jesus cared and responded. You must care and respond too because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is your choice. Are you going to respond, or do nothing at all?