You Give Them Something To Eat

There was a time in the life of the apostles where there was an apparent disconnect between them and their Master. Jesus had called and commissioned them to join with Him in the work He was doing in the world—proclaiming the kingdom and healing those who were sick. Upon their first return from the mission field, they reported to Jesus what had transpired through their labors. While we do not know exactly what was said, we know how Jesus responded.

In Luke 9, we see the events unfold as Jesus decides to withdraw to a desolate place to spend more time with His disciples. One could imagine how the disciples must have felt when they knew that they were going to get more intimate time of undistracted teaching and training from Jesus. However, the multitudes seeking Jesus had other plans. Luke tells us that, instead of turning the crowds of people away, Jesus welcomed them and spent the entire day ministering to them in word (proclaiming the kingdom) and deed (cured those who had need of healing). As a good physician reporting the details of the event, Luke indicated that the “day began to wear away”, meaning that Jesus devoted all of His time to an unexpected mass of needs, both spiritual and physical.

It appears that the disciples were neglected and ignored--that perhaps Jesus was giving them back seat treatment. If anyone deserved Jesus’ time, wouldn’t it have been those whom He called and commissioned and were joining Him in His work? Interestingly enough, we do not have any indication from the text that the disciples joined Jesus at any point during the course of the day. Instead, they convened together to advise Jesus on what to do with the massive number people since the day was nearly spent.

There was a striking disconnect in the head, heart, and hands of the disciples. First, they were not thinking the way Jesus was thinking about people. Jesus thought it would be good to welcome them. The disciples wanted to send them away. Why in the world would you send the people away? According to their thinking, the surrounding villages had the resources to meet the needs of the people. That made sense to them. But in their thinking, they had factored out Jesus and His ability to provide for the people. After an all-day ministry marathon where the blind were made to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk and the leper healed and embraced—miracle after miracle--should not the disciples have thought to themselves, “Is there anything too hard for Jesus? If He can heal so many people, certainly there is more provision with Jesus in a desolate place than all the cities of the world without Him."

Second, the disciples were not engaged in their heart and affections, having witnessed first hand all that Jesus had taught and done for the people. What seemed like an insurmountable mountain of need was actually a tapestry upon which Jesus would display His glory.  When impossible situations were overcome by Jesus, should there not have been shouts of joy? When those in sickness and despair were healed, should there not have been awe, amazement, and wonder at the majesty, power, and compassion of Jesus? With so much practical training from their Master to show them all day how to preach and to minister, should their hearts not be full of gratitude? And yet, in spite of all this, the only thing we know is that the only contribution the disciples made was to counsel Jesus to send the crowd of people away.

Thirdly, the disciples were disconnected from the work of their hands. Jesus provided a hands-on ministry opportunity. The disciples, however, had their hands up in desperation and confusion. Luke 9:2 tells us what Jesus commissioned them to. Luke 9:11 shows us Jesus modeling for them exactly what He commissioned them to do. In other words, Jesus was not simply going to give them an assignment and leave them to figure it out on their own; Jesus was generous to display before them over the course of the day what it meant to proclaim the kingdom and to cure those who needed healing. Jesus was the kind of leader and general in the front lines and in the trenches, not in the classroom or corporate office.

It is no wonder, then, that Jesus would simply respond to His disciples with one command, “You give them something to eat.” This was a command to reconnect with their head, heart, and hands, and Jesus would place them between His miraculous power and the multitude’s deep need to show them that Jesus can take a desolate place and turn it into a banqueting table of feasting for 20,000 people. In this well known story, Jesus took a little offering of some loaves and fish and miraculously provided a superabundance of food for everyone that day.

The disciples would end up giving the people something to eat; but it was not with any of their own resources. Jesus performed the miracle. The disciples delivered the miracle to the people. The miracle was, in this way, in their hands; and, at the end of the day, it was still in their hands with basketfuls enough for each disciple who wanted to send the people way to the world.

There is much for us to glean from this account in the lives of the disciples. We, too, are often tempted to think that the messes and needs of the world are too great to bear, so it seems to make more sense just to send them away. But Jesus has a word for us too. He may not put a miracle in our hands. He does more than that. He has put a miracle in our hearts. Our greatest need—more than daily bread for survival—is having our sins forgiven and righteousness granted through Jesus’ life and death on the cross. Through His death, we have been given life. Through His sufferings, we have been healed. Through His going outside the camp, we have been welcomed into the presence of God to the throne of grace. He is, to us, the bread that came down from heaven. 

Should we not, then, follow our Master to minister in word and deed to those around us, welcoming them with the same gracious hospitality He has afforded us? Should we not embrace the challenges and messy situations, knowing that His mercy is greater than their messes? Should we not reconnect without Master to believe that His work done His way through His people will also come with His supply? If so, then let us give them something to eat. Let us show the world around the greatness of His grace, having tasted and seen that the Lord is good!


Tim Brister