They don’t have to leave. You yourselves give them something to eat!…Then bring them here to me.
Here is the whole scripture in context:
When Jesus heard the news about John, he left there in a boat and went to a lonely place by himself. The people heard about it, and so they left their towns and followed him by land. Jesus got out of the boat, and when he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sick.
That evening his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.” “They don’t have to leave,” answered Jesus. “You yourselves give them something to eat!” “All we have here are five loaves and two fish,” they replied. “Then bring them here to me,” Jesus said. He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left over. The number of men who ate was about five thousand, not counting the women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21).
Jesus has just heard the horrible news that his comrade John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod Antipas. His reaction is to go off by himself, presumably to pray. By the time he returns a crowd has gathered, perhaps because they, too, knew that John had been murdered. Maybe they were in need of encouragement in the face of this horrible event.
Jesus doesn’t yell at them or tell them to go away. Even in his own time of sorrow about the fate of his friend and compatriot, his tender heart feels pity for the crowd and he heals them. Then, when his disciples tell Jesus that he should shut it down so they can all go to the village and grab a bite to eat, Jesus instructs his disciples to feed them. He says, “You yourselves give them something to eat!”
The disciples are perplexed. There are more than five thousand people gathered. That’s a big crowd. And they only have five loaves of bread and two fish. Ummm…..a little quick math reveals that it’s not nearly enough. Pretty obvious. But Jesus proves them wrong. He took what the disciples had to offer, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He didn’t ask God for anything. He gave thanks. Not a prayer of petition. He gave thanks. Because he had faith that God was going to provide for these people who had touched his heart. He gave thanks because he believed that God would feed them. He gave thanks because that’s how it works in the Kingdom of God. More than five thousand people can be fed on five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. With leftovers. That is something to be thankful for.
The thing that really strikes me is how Jesus tells them, “You yourselves give them something to eat!” even though they clearly lack the resources to do so. I’ve read or heard this scripture hundreds of times, and I never picked up on this. When I see a need out there, how many times do I look at my own resources and decide that I don’t have enough to make a difference? Or that I don’t have the skills or abilities to do provide others with the help they need? If you look at the world through the eyes of a citizen of the Kingdom of God, you have everything you need to make great things happen. There is always enough to feed people and provide for their basic needs.
Jesus tells us to give what little we have, give thanks to God, and believe. That’s all it takes. Remember all the times that Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that food is not a problem for God:
This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn’t your life worth more than food? (Matthew 6:25).
So do not start worrying: “Where will my food come from” Or my drink? Or my clothes?” (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. (Matthew 6:31-33).
Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples, “It’s OK guys. I will feed them all for you. Just give me what you’ve got and I’ll take care of it.” No, no, no. He says, “You yourselves give them something to eat!” He tells THEM to do it. He wants THEM to believe. He doesn’t want them to rely on him to do these things for them. He wants them to grow up spiritually and develop their own faith. He wants them to believe, just like he believes. He wants them to figure out how to do what he does. He is already living in the Kingdom of God, and he wants them to enter in with him.
I guess I saw this kind of thing at our old church in Chicago. We were a praying, miracle-believing bunch of people but nobody had much money. Every Sunday after church people took turns providing lunch for the whole church. The number attending and the amount of food both fluctuated greatly, but we never once ran out of food. No matter how little food seemed to be there at the beginning of the meal, there was always more than enough. No one ever went away hungry, ever.
Remember that famous saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Jesus doesn’t want to entertain his disciples with miracles. He wants them to become miracle workers. I think he wants all of us to know that we can be miracle workers, too, if we just exercise our faith. We don’t have to believe that we can make it happen. We only have to do our best and then believe that there is enough for everyone. Enough food, enough healing, enough love. We only have to believe that there’s enough.
What does this scripture say to you?
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