“His disciples answered him, ‘Where can anyone get enough bread here in this desolate place to feed these people?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been around someone who was slow on the uptake? One of my favorite such characters is Pinky from Pinky and the Brain. The characters were originally one of the side shows of the classic cartoon, Animaniacs (currently in the second season of its revival on Hulu), but became so popular they got their own show. I watched every episode. Twice. The show is about two lab mice, one a super genius thanks to experimentation, the other a complete moron, who together try to take over the world. One of the show’s running gags is that Brain gets an idea for taking over the world, asks Pinky if he’s thinking the same, and Pinky responds by saying, “I think so Brain, but….” and then follows that up with something completely off the wall. Here’s a nice compilation of these responses. In any event, the joke is that Pinky never quite manages to be in the moment with Brain. He’s always a few miles behind the eight ball. When Jesus was facing another huge and hungry crowd, He asked the disciples yet again to feed them. From their response, they might as well have been Pinky.
This is another of those moments in the Gospels when you know they have to be true. There’s no way Peter would have included a story like this – or at least this particular detail of the story – if he wasn’t absolutely committed to presenting the truth about Jesus. Some critics over the years have alleged that the apostles just made up the whole Jesus story – or at least the miraculous parts of His story – in order to make a power play in the new religion they had started. If that was the case, consistently presenting themselves as clueless idiots does not seem like it would have been the wisest way to go. This verse makes you want to stop right in your reading tracks and exclaim, “Wait, what?!?”
They had literally seen Jesus produce enough bread and fish for a medium-sized city out of basically nowhere. He had five loaves and two fish and fed upwards of 15,000 people. Why on earth would they respond to His expressing a desire to feed this smaller, but still large, crowd with anything other than confident faith?
Let’s talk about how we got here. A few weeks before this, Jesus and the guys had traveled to the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee. When they arrived, they were met by a demon-possessed man. In fact, this guy had multiple demons living in his body. Jesus drove out the demons and sent them into a nearby herd of pigs which promptly ran off a cliff into the Sea and drowned. The Gentiles living there who hadn’t heard much about Jesus, were terrified and begged Him to go away. They didn’t want someone with that much power walking loose on their streets. If He could do something like He did, what would stop Him from getting them? The man Jesus healed begged to go with Him, but Jesus told him stay behind and share his story with anyone who would listen. Mark told us then that the man went into the Decapolis, a collection of ten cities all in the same neighborhood, and started doing exactly that.
Now, that story seems like it was over when we left it. And indeed, we never meet that man again in the story. But a few weeks later, Jesus and the guys go on a little vacation way up north into Syria to the city of Tyre. They can’t escape notice there and Jesus winds up healing a Gentile woman’s daughter of demon-possession. Not wanting the vacation to end quite yet, though, Jesus makes His way back toward home by way of an eastern route that took them through the Decapolis. Well, the last time Jesus was in this region, the people begged Him to leave. Now, as we saw last week, they received Him with open arms and brought all their sick and injured to Him in order for Him to heal them. In fact, an enormous crowd that was probably most Gentiles gathers around Jesus and refuses to leave. They can’t get enough of His teachings.
After three full days with nothing to eat, they’re well-fed spiritually, but their stomachs are pretty rumbly. And Jesus wants to give them something to eat.
This should have been a no-brainer moment. Jesus should have been able to say, “Hey fellas, I want to feed all these people,” and they should have immediately responded with, “Absolutely, Jesus. Here are some loaves of bread and fish we found. Do your Jesus thing again and let’s really impress these folks.” Instead, Jesus says, “Are you guys thinking what I’m thinking,” and they respond, “We think so Jesus, but where are we going to find food for so many people way out here?” If facepalming was a thing then, you know Jesus would have done it.
How could these guys have been so clueless? How could they have responded like this? Simple. When we’re not ready to believe something, past experience is meaningless. For the disciples, their hearts were hard. They hadn’t rejected Jesus, but they were still running so hard on shock that they still couldn’t connect the dots from one experience to another.
So, what do we make of this? I think there is a reminder here that when someone isn’t ready to accept who Jesus is, they can’t be forced into it. Obvious signs and wonders won’t carry much weight. That person is coming at the world from a different worldview standpoint as someone who is ready or already does believe in Jesus. This means they will interpret the same set of circumstances through a different set of lenses which will lead them to a different set of conclusions. Things we might see as obviously pointing in one direction or another, they’ll see as the opposite. There’s really only one response to this that is going to accomplish any meaningful good. This is the same response Jesus gave here: Patience and another demonstration of the incredible love of God.
We are not going to be able to force or argue someone into the kingdom of God. Well-reasoned arguments can take down unreasonable objections. And I think the battle for the mind is an incredibly important one to wage. There is unquestionably a place for apologetics in our Gospel-advancing efforts. But ultimately, following Jesus is a decision of the heart. Reason can push someone in the right direction, but love will help get them over the final hurdles to cross the line of faith. If the disciples could miss out on this obvious invitation to belief, anyone can miss out on any invitation to belief. Our role as those who are convinced already is to keep right on loving them until they get there.