"As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, 'This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.' Jesus replied, 'They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.' 'We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,' they answered. 'Bring them here to me,' he said. (Matthew 14:15-18)
These are well loved, familiar passages. But skimming through them deprives us of some very rich truths hidden between the lines.
Immediately before this scene unfolded, Jesus had just received the news of the untimely death of his friend, John the Baptist. So he "withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place." (Mt. 14:13) Yet when he reached the shore, a large crowd of sick and hurting awaited his healing. By the time the disciples arrived, Jesus had spent the entire day compassionately ministering to the crowd.
as evening approached"? It took them all day to reach Jesus. It took those in need much less time. The disciples went straight to Jesus (one can only speculate whether or not they even stopped to greet the individuals in the crowd) and began complaining. In today's terminology, it's as if they were saying: "It's getting dark. These people are still here. We're tired and it's dinner time. Send them away to fend for themselves. We want you to ourselves. We need some me time."
Complaints and self-centeredness. When you and I are inconvenienced or things aren't progressing as we'd like, are we any different?
Then Jesus reminds them of their ministry. "You give them something to eat." Oops. Somehow they believed it was a 9 to 5 job. Ministry needed to fit their schedule, preferences and comfort level. Sound familiar? That's when the excuses started. The disciples looked at their limited provisions. Then with limited vision, they tried to whine their way out of reaching out to those in need: "But we have only..." Only? They had Jesus. But they didn't factor Him in to the ministry equation. Oops.
Have you ever been asked to carry out a ministry or mission task only to offer excuses? Whether in ministry or not, we are Jesus' disciples 24-7-365. But we see our limited resources. Our limited time. Our lack of sleep. And in the midst of it, we don't see Jesus. He doesn't get factored into the equation. We fall into the trap of believing that once we've been given a task, we're on our own. Oops.
Jesus' response is one of the most hope-filled phrases in all of Scripture: "Bring them here to me." Bring them here. Let the children come. Let those who seek find. He never sends away those who genuinely seek Him. Never. The crowd had left all that was familiar to follow Jesus. Yet the disciples could only see a mass of nameless faces. A crowd.
Jesus saw individuals. And he saw their deepest needs. He saw the disciples' need to be reminded to take up His cross in ministry. He saw the crowd's need for nourishment that would outlast this world.
Jesus sees our needs and meets them in ways that far surpass our understanding. Then He commands us - His disciples - "You give them something to eat." Sometimes we believe we don't have enough. But Jesus gently reminds us that it's okay. He does. He always does.