MATTHEW 14: "YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT"
Come on, press the red button! Obey God's word today.
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.”
Preparing to read Matthew 14
I'll tell you the first names of the guys above -- Bob, Jerry, Tom, and Jim. Jim was a sojourner who parked his bus in our church parking lot. He gave his life to Jesus, bought a bus and graciously took young Christian bands around the country to share the gospel of Jesus on the streets before and after the music. Uncle Jim died of a heart attack shortly after this photo was taken. I'm writing this post in Uncle Jim's honor.
We had gone to the food bank that day, and I snapped this photo while we waited for the forklift to load our trucks. For decades these and other men and women in our church heard the words of Jesus, "You give them something to eat," and they obeyed.
Maybe at one time these guys were like the disciples of Jesus, like you and me. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, but with exceptions of mothers and food service providers, most of us pass our days thinking about feeding one person: me.
Is Jesus telling us to feed only ourselves? "You give them something to eat." I'll come back to this at the end, but first there's another important story in this chapter that leads to Jesus empowering the disciples to join him in the work of compassion.
Matthew tells the macabre story to explain something Herod believed: that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead after he had him beheaded. The whole Herod household had been in an uproar because John the Baptist confronted Herod about marrying his brother Philip's wife, Herodias. "It's not lawful for you to have her," John told Herod. Herod put John in prison but didn't kill him because he feared the people who saw John for what he was, a prophet.
It was dancing that killed John the Baptist. For his birthday, Herodias daughter danced for Herod. He was so pleased (and drunk?) that he offered her anything she wanted. She consulted her mother, Herodias, then said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was distressed, but because he would be shamed in front of his guests to renege on the oath, he ordered John's head be brought on a platter, and it was. John's disciples come to bury him and tell Jesus.
When Jesus gets the news, he withdrew in a boat to a solitary place. Crowds find him and Jesus feels compassion and heals their sick. After a day of this, the disciples want to send the crowds away. Their ostensible reason was so the crowds could get something to eat but was it because the disciples were tired of the mob? Jesus response hints that he was rebuffing their insistence on sending the crowds away. "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
At their disposal was five loaves and two fish and there were thousands of people. They must have thought Jesus was crazy. But Jesus takes their small offering and gives thanks to God for it, breaks it up and passes it back to the disciples. The miracle is enacted when the disciples pass the food to thousands and all have enough to eat. The miracle is reinforced when the disciples pick up twelve baskets of leftover food. Did each of the twelve apostles stand stunned holding his own basket of left overs, vastly more than they even started with?
Over the years, the men and women who have fed the poor, the hungry families who have come our church's way have found an abundance of food is available to give away. When we gave food away, more was available. "You give them something to eat."
Maybe the most important thing is that we've learned the words that proceed these: "They do not need to go away." For nearly 50 years, our church and many Christian churches like ours, has realized that we tend to be like the disciples, to tire of serving, but we hear the words of Jesus: The poor, the grieving -- as Jesus was after John's beheading -- the hungry, the sick, the diseased, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the less socially adjusted, the mentally ill do not need to go away from the church. They are the church Jesus is looking for.
Lord who multiplies bread, would you help our churches, our families, our individual hearts not to have the spirit of repulsion of the poor, the hungry, those in need of healing and say, "Send them away Lord!" Help us to hear your words, Jesus Christ, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
Who is Jesus telling you stop trying to send away? Who is Jesus telling you to feed. "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.