What do you think the disciples were feeling and thinking when they told Jesus to send the people away?
What other response could they have had if they were feeling or thinking those things?
God thank you that we do not have to have all of the answers but we can trust you at all times. Help us to stay compassionate and open to the ways you are calling us to live and respond to the needs around us.
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish– unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Have you ever heard of the word “hangry” before? It is a combination of the words “hungry” and “angry”, and is usually used to describe that irritable mood that many of us find ourselves in when we have not eaten in awhile. Your stomach feels irritated, so you feel irritated!
When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, I got to do many long, beautiful hikes through Coast Salish forests and mountains. I would wake up early on a Saturday to drive out to a trailhead with friends. In the car the energy was usually high as we were excited to hike! We then would make our way up steep switchbacks, across creeks, and up rocky mountain sides to be rewarded with beautiful views or great places to swim at the top. After we hiked back down, the next things we would always head to do were to rest and to eat. In the car ride home we were usually much quieter, those of us not driving would nod off into naps, and at least one person was often, hangry!
In the passage above from Luke, commonly known as “The feeding of the five thousand” the disciples had just come back from journeys that Jesus sent them on. In the beginning of Luke 9 Jesus gives the disciples authority to drive out demons, heal people, and to preach. The disciples did as they were told and went from village to village healing people and preaching the gospel. They were so effective in their work that Herod even heard about them. When the disciples returned I imagine that they must have felt pretty good about themselves after having the authority from Jesus to heal and preach to so many people. I imagine that they also must have been exhausted from travelling and doing this intimate, relational, and physically taxing work. When they return Jesus takes them with him to withdraw to Bethsaida. The passage doesn’t say why, but perhaps it was so they could all have a bit of rest.
As we learn in the passage, people find out and follow Jesus and the disciples to Bethsaida where Jesus continues to welcome, heal, and teach them. It is by this time that the disciples may have started to feel hangry, or something like it. In the afternoon the disciples tell Jesus what to do! They tell him to send the people away so that they could have a place to sleep and can find something to eat. After the disciples have come back from healing, casting out demons, preaching, and travelling from village to village the last thing that they probably wanted to do was to be responsible for showing crowds of people hospitality. They rely on what they already know, that there are inns for people to stay and markets for people to buy food in the surrounding countryside. When Jesus replies and tells them to feed the people their response is: this is what we have, five loaves and two fish, and it is not enough. Jesus shows them that what they have is more than enough by instructing them to organize the people and then gives thanks for the loaves and fish that they had. As the disciples distribute the food they find that they not only have enough, but have twelve basketfuls leftover.
When the disciples told Jesus to send people away they might have had too much confidence in themselves or were too tired to think about feeding them. After they experienced the authority that Jesus had given them when he sent them out they might have forgotten that it was not by their own logic and will that they could heal and teach, but through the power of God. In the exhaustion that they might have felt that day in Bethsaida they were using their own logic to figure out how the crowds of people could best be fed for that day, and were also thinking about how they could rest and be fed themselves.
Instead of relying on logic or figuring out how to take care of the people, all the disciples had to do was to trust and to listen to Jesus. When Jesus used the five loaves of bread and two fish to satisfy everyone and still had twelve basketfuls left over he was showing the disciples that their trust was not in what was given to them, but in Jesus. Perhaps the disciples had already forgotten that it was only through Jesus’ authority and power that they could heal, cast out demons, and preach. Perhaps the disciples were beginning to wonder if Jesus just cared for the crowds he healed or if he cared for them too. Perhaps the disciples only saw the need in front of them, but did not remember who it was that they followed and could trust. Regardless if the disciples felt any of these things, they had enough trust to listen to Jesus’ instructions even though it did not line up with their reality.
Today there are so many needs around us. The spread of the virus is not slowing and our routines are not returning to “normal” as we thought that they might. As we contemplate how to live now and how to plan for the future it is tempting to look at reality and feel that after months of this virus, we are tired, and there is nothing more we can do. However this passage reminds us that Jesus can meet needs out of what we have. Instead of assuming that the shelters, grocery stores, hospitals, and public health centers can meet the needs of people today Jesus may be inviting us all to compassionately respond.
The disciples thought that the needs of the crowd were too large for them to provide for. They assumed that they did not need to care for the people because the people could find their own inns to sleep at and markets to eat. However Jesus instructs them to care for the needs of the people as well as be fed themselves. Jesus does this not just because he could, but because he treated those who followed him there with compassion. When we witness needs around us let us pause and listen to what Jesus might be instructing us to do instead of assuming that those needs could be met elsewhere. When we hangry, tired, and overwhelmed by the needs around us may we trust Jesus to show us what to do.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.