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When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place, Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill. (Matt 14:13-14)
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have hare only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. (Matt 14:16-18)
It was one of those low points for Jesus, one of those times He knew He needed time alone with His Father. He had just learned Herod had beheaded John the Baptizer, his cousin, the one God had sent to prepare the way for Him, and the one who had baptized Him. It must have been a stark reminder of what was ahead of Him in His own ministry while on earth. He needed the comfort and love and strength of His Father.
His disciples needed a break, too. The people’s demands were so constant they weren’t getting adequate food or rest:
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” (Mark 6:31)
But when they landed, they were met by thousands of people in desperate straits. Like “sheep without a shepherd,” they were lost, unable to find the pastures that would sustain them, completely defenceless. Some were already sick.
Jesus recognized they needed immediate attention. He didn’t allow His personal grief to overwhelm His compassion. He and His disciples were hungry for food, but this crowd was hungry for God; he wasn’t about to send them away empty. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me to finish this work,” he had earlier told his disciples.(John 4:34) So He began healing the sick and teaching many things, knowing God would meet both their needs and His own.
As the day wore on, the disciples were getting hungrier, and started fretting about what on earth this crowd was going to eat. They urged Jesus to send the crowd away so they could buy some food before they fainted. They must have been stunned when Jesus told them to feed the crowd.
“But, but, but,” they stammered in disbelief, eyes as big as Frisbees. “With five loaves and two fish? Seriously?”
Seriously. Jesus was telling His disciples that when people are hungry for God, don’t tell them to go somewhere else to get what they need. The next lesson would be a hands-on demonstration, and one that seems to need a lot of repeating: Our resources are limited; God’s aren’t. It was the same attitude of doubt that infected the Israelites in the wilderness after God did miracle after miracle to deliver them from Egypt:
They spoke against God; they said “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?
True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?” (Psalm 78:19-20)
Yes, He really can. When we give what little we have to Jesus, who is the bread of life, He multiplies it to fulfill God’s purposes. The crowd was fed, the disciples were fed, and every one of them was satisfied physically and filled up in their spirits.
Jesus wasn’t quite finished yet. “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted,” He said (John 6:12). Don’t waste any of what God provides, He was telling his disciples. There are always other needs that can be met. God doesn’t give what He doesn’t intend to be used.
But it wasn’t to be used to gain human adulation.
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:15)
Knowing that He had emptied Himself to meet the needs of the crowd and His disciples, Jesus resumed His original journey to commune with His Father — a journey that had been deferred but not derailed. He rejected political exaltation for the pinnacle of prayer.
It had been an exhausting day, physically, emotionally and spiritually. But after filling up on time with his Father, Jesus was able to walk on water to rejoin His disciples.
When I feel too drained, too distracted, too depleted to face the needs God has put in front of me, I hope I’ll remember to put on my water-shoes and go to God for strength to meet the need, and the time with Him to replenish my spirit. Then, all things will be Him-possible.