He Feeds Body and Soul
Bible Passage: Matthew 14:13-21
You finally pull up to your campsite. You had been planning the get away for a while. Just you and your family. In fact you hand picked the location. It was remote—no one would be near you for miles. A little quiet time is just what you need after the hectic pace you had been going at. It was so remote, in fact, that there was no cell service. Just what you need after your phone blowing up and emails always coming in. You pulled up to your campsite ready to pitch your tent, start a fire, set up your chair and relax. There would be plenty of swimming and late night smores. It was just the get away you needed to find some refreshment. So you get out of your car and you can’t believe your eyes. The people you work with are there and so are your neighbors. It was supposed to be a get away, but they followed you there. It was supposed to be a time with just you and your family, but they followed you there. So would you be frustrated, annoyed, maybe a little angry?
Maybe you can understand then what Jesus faced when he and his disciples stepped out of their boat for a getaway of their own and there was a large crowd waiting for them. The getaway seemed to be ruined. What might stand out most in this miracle account is what Jesus does—in a profound display he demonstrates his control over the created order, but more importantly this miracle account is a sign of something.
Certainly we like to call accounts like these miracles because Jesus performs an act that is not explainable by natural law. But really it is a sign which is showing us something. And in order to figure out what it is pointing to we need to consider why Jesus performed this sign and as we answer that we will see what might just be a second miracle. Because if you or I stepped off that boat for a getaway and saw a massive crowd of people we might just be inclined to send them away, but instead throughout this account Jesus shows his compassion.
Jesus had just heard about the senseless death of John the Baptist. At another feast far away Herod made a promise to his niece to give her whatever she asked. She asked for John’s head on a platter, and Herod couldn’t back down. Jesus heard about what happened and he needed to get away. So he and his disciples hopped in their boat and went into the wilderness. But from the very outset and at the most inopportune time for himself, Jesus had compassion on those people, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
The people came to Jesus because they knew he could help them and they knew they could not help themselves. Instead of seeing them as a nuisance he was moved in his inner being to show them care and love. In fact there were so many people there and so many sick that his work of healing didn’t just take a few hours, but it took most of the day. Jesus cared so much about those people who needed his help that he dedicated the first day of his getaway to helping them.
The evening approached and the disciples saw a problem. There were 5000 men not counting women and children, so maybe 10,000 all together and it was getting time to eat, the people were hungry, and there wasn’t any food. After all, they were in the wilderness and there was nothing to give to these people. In their mind the most logical thing to do was to send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.
The disciples didn’t really bring the problem to Jesus, they just told him that he should send them away. Sure they had seen Jesus heal people, even lepers. They had seen him calm a terrifying storm. They had even seen him raise a girl from the dead. What they had never seen him do was provide food for 10,000 people out of nothing. Maybe they had forgotten exactly what God in the flesh was capable of. Maybe they doubted his ability. After all, they only had five loaves of bread and two fish.
But maybe they also doubted his compassion. They knew well enough that Jesus was a spiritual teacher. He cared about preaching and teaching and proclaiming that God’s salvation plan was at work. Jesus had better things to do than to host a meal for 10,000 people. The people could just go into the villages and buy their own food.
I can understand the disciple’s reaction. The saw a problem and they were going to deal with it in the quickest and most direct way possible. Send them away! I understand it because it is pragmatic. It’s practical. I understand it because I can be pragmatic and practical. Maybe too much so.
Are there problems in your life, areas of clear need, where instead of bringing them to the Lord you try to deal with them yourself? Maybe you make distinctions in your mind about the kind of things that the Lord can help you with and the things that he’s either unable or unwilling to help you with. If you do then you are pragmatist just like the disciples.
I once heard a story about a pastoral intern and his wife. Back in his day he made $500 per month. As you can imagine with bills and normal day to day needs $500 didn’t go very far. One month they were down to $7 in their checking account. But the young husband sat down and wrote out an offering check for $5. Now they only had $2. The young wife asked her husband, “How will we eat?” Pay day was two weeks away and the husband said, “Honey, I don’t know, but the Lord will provide us with food.” The first time I heard that story I thought to myself, “How completely reckless and foolish.” If you thought the same, then you are a pragmatist too.
Being overly pragmatic does two things to us: 1) We focus on what God actually does among us to the extent that we begin to think that he is not able to help us in our time of need. 2) It blinds us to something far more important—why our Lord would want to help us in the first place. It blinds us to his compassion.
And here’s the problem with that: it leaves little room to trust in the compassion of our God.
But Jesus wouldn’t let his compassion be stopped by his disciples lack of trust. He wasn’t going to just send the crowds away, because his compassion is limitless. “They do not need to go away,” he said, “You give them something to eat.” Which on the surface might seem like preposterous statement But Jesus would show compassion to the disciples by bringing them into his work. What they were helpless to do he would though his almighty power enable them to do.
If it isn’t evident already he showed complete compassion to the crowd. He cared about their hunger. He cared about their bodies. So, he took the five loaves and two fish and he gave thanks to his Father for what they did have. And then he handed the food and bread to the disciples to hand out to the crowd. And the food kept on going and going and going. All who were there were satisfied. They had their need met and then some because there were even leftovers.
This kind of compassion has been consistent with God throughout all of time. When Israel was wandering throughout the desert and was complaining of hunger—about what they did not have—God showed compassion and provided them with mana and quail.
When a widow was cooking her last meal for her and her son because there was a drought and they had run out of flour—God had compassion—and the flour didn’t run out until the drought was over.
When people are in need God shows his compassion because it is complete and consistent. After all that compassion is what put Jesus on earth in the first place. He saw our helpless state. We couldn’t do anything about our lack of trust in him. We couldn’t do anything about our sin. So in compassion he came to earth, as God in the flesh, to live and to die so that we might enter into an eternal feast in heaven.
God cares. He cared about Israel. He cared about the widow. He cared about the crowds. He cared because he is compassionate. And if he has already given you himself in his son how will he not graciously meet your needs. That is a kind of compassion we can trust in.
He even has shown you compassion by drawing you into his work and making you a dispenser of his compassion. Kindness and compassion and the message of the forgiveness of sins goes a long way to heal the broken hearted. Of course, we have much can share with those who have little.
A miracle is something that cannot be explained by natural order or natural law. We might look at Jesus’ compassion as something that is miraculous. He shows compassion consistently and completely. But it really is not, because it is natural to who he is. And since he is compassionate you can know that he will meet your need. Amen.