I was just reading about "The Feeding of the Five Thousand", a story I remember not liking as a kid. I think I did not know how the appreciate the subtleties in it. To set the stage, John the Baptist, Jesus's cousin and the only family member of His generation who believed in Him, has just been beheaded by King Herod. Jesus hears the news and takes a boat to the other side of the Lake, to a "deserted place". Apparently Jesus wants some alone time. He is dealing with the emotions of the death of his close friend! Pause. The God of the Universe, YHWH, who knows all about eternity, is so much a man of flesh and bone that the death of his close relative grieves Him. His answer to that grief: solitude, time with His Heavenly Father in prayer.
He must have had some time to be alone, because Matthew 14:13 says that the crowds followed Him on foot. They seem to have gathered around the general area where Jesus was praying and when Jesus is done He "comes out" (maybe a cave, maybe a secluded place on the mountain, maybe just stepping around a corner) and sees the multitude. And what is written next just grips my heart: Jesus was moved with compassion for them and healed their sick. Wow! In the middle of His grief He has found a way to still minister and give of Himself. Of course, He's spent time in prayer - and that's the key! Without that time of solitude and deep fellowship with His Father I doubt ministry on the scale of this multitude would have been possible. It is important to realize that Jesus ministers out of the overflow of His time with YHWH, not because He's avoiding the pain! He models this to us: deal with your pain in the Secret Place of the Most High God, only then can you move past your own pain and minister to others. Don't allow ministry to be the escape from pain!
Jesus heals their sick all day long. In the evening his disciples come to him. They are probably hungry and tired and feel it's necessary to tell Jesus that it's dinner time. Apparently they did not prepare for a long day in a secluded place, for they had not brought any food. I'm not sure what sending the crowds away would have done for them other than avoiding a riot. Jesus simply tells them, "You feed them." What? Was Jesus so distracted by His ministry that He did not know the disciples had no food, and certainly not enough for such a crowd? I'm sure that's what went through the disciples' minds. They were looking at each other in amazement, shrugging and asking, "What did He say? Did I hear Him right? He wants us to feed them? Surely He said something else and I misunderstood him. What did He say?"
Jesus knew what the disciples did not know.
This is how I imagine it might have gone:
"You feed them."
"I'm sorry Jesus... after you told us to feed them we had a look around. We didn't bring any food, you know, because you didn't mention anything about staying out past dinner. We thought we'd be back in town by now and, yeah, so we don't have anything ourselves. And so we looked around and found this kid who's mom packed him a lunch. But we can't take a kid's dinner, Jesus. Bad publicity. So, we're back to square one. So, say again, what do you want us to do?"
"You feed them."
The disciples stare at Jesus, probably trying to process what He just said.
"You misunderstood me, Jesus. We have nothing to give them!"
I think this is what Jesus wanted them to get. We have nothing to give them. It matters not how talented we are, how often we've read the Bible, how eloquent or funny our sermons or teachings, how passionate our appeal... WE HAVE NOTHING TO GIVE THEM!!!
The answer was so simple:
"Bring them here to Me."