35 When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and it is already quite late ; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But He answered them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” 38 And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. 44 There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.
The recognition of our new identity in Christ is difficult for us to comprehend sometimes. The best part of this story is when Jesus says, “YOU give them something to eat.” We can see that the provision came from God and it flowed through Jesus, but it was the disciples that did the work. As Christians, we are to be agents of change. We are called to be the “hands and feet” of Jesus. We are to embody the person of Christ and reveal God’s Kingdom to others. We can’t do that by sending people away and telling them to get what they need elsewhere.
How often have we sent people away that needed something we could offer through the power of God? How often do we doubt God’s presence in our lives and miss an opportunity to share Him with others? This story of feeding the five thousand is a very diverse application of God’s Kingdom. It is used often and approached from many different angles. We can examine the little boy’s faith that donated the bread and fish. We can see the disciples’ lack of ingenuity in serving the crowd. We see Jesus’ display of simple faith in God’s provision. We see God’s abundant flow of provision for those in need. I’m sure if we think about it, we can identify with almost all of these different characters in the story.
Instead of focusing on the different people involved and how we identify or don’t identify, let us focus on how we neglect the simplicity of God’s Kingdom in our lives. Aside from everyone having more than enough food, what is extraordinary in this example of God’s goodness? We saw in verse 34 that Jesus had compassion on the people because they were like lost sheep without a shepherd. A shepherd is one who wholly takes care of the flock. He taught them for a while and then He fed them. This is a common expectation of a shepherd. Jesus cared for the people wholly. He didn’t just preach to them and then send them away. He kept them and catered to their needs. Sometimes we shorten our teaching/preaching/evangelism to a little tract or Facebook post…but do we cater to the needs of those we are ministering to? Do we display the love of God or do we just talk about it? My pastor likes to say, “it’s hard for people to hear the message of the Gospel over the sound of their own rumbling stomachs.”
Just like going to church, we’ve turned sharing the Gospel into a box we check to say we completed the task instead of doing it wholeheartedly. I’m pretty sure that when we are called to answer to God, there will be many disappointments on our part because we cut short the experience for others. We didn’t fully care for those in need, we just did part of the job thinking it was good enough. I wonder how many people have walked away from their experience with a “Christian” and thought, “hmm, that was interesting. Now I have to go find my solution elsewhere.” We need to change our thinking from fast food evangelism and start serving a 5-course meal. When we go see the doctor, we don’t just want to know what is wrong with us, we want to know how to fix it, right? We don’t want the doctor to just write us a prescription and send us on our way, we want him or her to take their time and give us their full attention and the time we need. We don’t just want a diagnosis and remedy; we want to be cared for. This same rule applies to those who are spiritually sick. We need to care for them completely and wholly.
Jesus’ purpose is to teach us how to do these things. This is why we must follow Him and become His disciples. A doctor doesn’t tell his patients to go to the school of medicine to get taken care of, does he? Then why do we just tell people to go to church or read their bibles and we never care for them in the process? If we are truly followers of Jesus Christ (Christians), then we must be doing exactly what He did. Caring for people, having compassion for the lost, giving holistic care instead of writing a prescription without knowing what is wrong. This is why Jesus tells us to treat people the way we would want to be treated; so we don’t forget the importance of fully caring for others.