“When it grew late, his disciples approached him and said, ‘This place is deserted, and it is already late. Send them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat.’ ‘You give them something to eat,’ he responded. They said to him, ‘Should we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever had company stay too late? If you’ve been there, you know exactly how that goes. You invite some friends over for an afternoon visit. They arrive and everything goes swimmingly. Then the hour starts getting on toward dinner and you hadn’t planned on their being there for that and therefore have nothing prepared. But they just won’t leave. They just keep talking. One more story. One more story. Then your stomach starts rumbling loudly because you’re hungry and they joke about it being time for dinner. But they won’t leave. So you start fixing dinner…and they keep talking. You tried to be subtle, but they wouldn’t take the hint. You just want to pull your hair out! Well, after Jesus had spent a whole day teaching another huge crowd that had shown up uninvited and taken the time the disciples were going to have with Jesus for themselves, they wanted the guests to go home. Jesus had other ideas.
Put yourself there in the disciples’ sandals for a minute. While they had been pretty jazzed upon their return to Jesus after their missionary journeys, He was right about their being tired. The journey across the lake to find somewhere quiet to recoup for a while had been nice, but work. They just wanted to rest. And then the crowd followed. Actually, it didn’t just follow, it grew like a blob oozing its away across the countryside, increasing its mass as it absorbed the population of every town and village it passed through. Now there was a mass of people almost beyond counting. From the groups Jesus had told them to break everybody into they managed to count 5,000 men, but that number didn’t include all the women and children who were there. There were likely upwards of 15,000 people who had spent the day listening to Jesus.
Finally the sun was starting to dip low on the horizon and the disciples were ready to tell everyone to go home so they could collapse and do nothing for a while. Their private retreat had turned into a major conference event, but there weren’t any restaurants nearby. But Jesus just kept teaching and the people didn’t show any indication that they were going to miss a single word He said. So, a couple of the guys finally had enough. They went up to Jesus, interrupted Him for a short sidebar, and said, “Rabbi, it’s getting late. Tell everybody to go home so everyone can get something to eat and rest.”
Think for a minute about the boldness it took to say this to Jesus. It makes you wonder if they drew straws and the shortest one had to go and do it. They were thinking just like you and I would have been thinking: This has gone on long enough. We’re tired. We’re not going to get to rest until everybody goes home. Make them go home, and let us rest. But you can’t just say something like that to Jesus. So, they couched their personal vendetta against this particular crowd in terms that made them sound like they were doing the crowds a favor. “Look Jesus, we’re out in the middle of nowhere. There are no resources out here to feed this crowd. If they hang around much longer, they’re going to be expecting dinner. It’s time to send them into the local villages to find something to eat.” Never mind the fact that a group this size descending on the local villages (which had probably been emptied of folks coming to hear Jesus in the first place) would be like a caravan of tour buses full of hungry teenagers descending unannounced on a lone, country McDonald’s for dinner.
Then Jesus did His Jesus thing and completely upset the apple cart. “You give them something to eat.”
Can you imagine the looks on their faces when He said that? There would have been a whole mixture of emotion across the group. Shock, incredulity, anger, frustration, and humor would have been part of it. Finally one of them spoke up and just couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm from dripping from his words. “What do you mean, ‘You give them something to eat?’ Are we supposed to magically find enough money to buy bread for all of them?” A denarius was a day’s wage. Put in terms we can understand a bit better, they said, “Are we supposed to pull out six months worth of wages and run to the store for dinner supplies?”
They were starting to get used to Jesus doing things that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but this one jumped the shark. How on earth were they supposed to feed this enormous crowd? There was no way they could do this. What happened to the rest they were supposed to be getting? This was absolutely crazy!
What they saw as crazy, though, Jesus saw as an opportunity. You see, sometimes Jesus asks us to do something that sounds not merely impossible, but utterly unreasonable. We can almost feel Him looking at us like He must have been looking at the disciples with a look of patience and just the slightest twinkle in His eyes that says He knows something we don’t know. The question for us to wrestle to the ground is the same one the disciples were facing: How will we respond? It should perhaps give us a bit of encouragement that their first response was unbelieving sarcasm and Jesus didn’t write them off. The simple truth, though, is that He has something in mind. He has something in mind and if we will trust Him and step out into the unknown with faith rooted in the fact that He’s never let us down before (unless, of course, our expectations in some past situation were unreasonable and out of line with His plans in which case that’s on us and not Him and we need to start taking ownership of our issues instead of pushing them off on someone else to avoid doing that), we will experience the wonder of His plans unfolding before us.
There may not be an enormous crowd to feed, but Jesus is calling you to something that seems beyond what you can even imagine accomplishing. How will you respond?