When Jesus came, He reached out to all of Israel and beyond, but He focused on twelve men who would carry on this bridge work. Boy, did Jesus have His work cut out for Him!
If anyone had an island mentality, it was these twelve disciples. They vied for positions of privilege within their own little group. They argued over who was the greatest. They sent children away, the sick away, and the desperate away, simply because they didn’t want to be bothered by all those needy people, especially when they were so busy jockeying for position on their own little island.
Because of this, Jesus had to constantly rebuke these men and reteach them over and over again about what it truly meant to be His follower. We’re going to look at one of those lessons.
Commonly known as the feeding of the five thousand, it starts with Jesus telling the disciples, “Let’s get away from the crowds for a while and rest.”
The remainder of the story, from Mark 6:32-44, goes like this:
They left by boat for a quieter spot. But many people saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and met them as they landed.
A vast crowd was there as He stepped from the boat, and He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, He taught them many things.
Late in the afternoon, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a desolate place, and it is getting late. Send the crowds away to the nearby farms and villages so they can buy themselves some food.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” They asked. “It would take a small fortune to buy food for all this crowd!”
“How much do you have?” He asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the crowd to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat in groups of fifty or a hundred. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked upward toward heaven, and asked God’s blessing on the food.
Breaking the loaves into pieces, He kept giving the bread and the fish to the disciples to give to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. Five thousand men had eaten from those five loaves.
Reading this story, it is tempting to focus on the miracle. However, I want to place our focus elsewhere. I want us to hone in on the lesson Jesus is teaching the disciples.
Look at what we see first. We see Jesus having deep compassion for a group of tired and hungry people. People described as “sheep without a shepherd.” They do need a shepherd. They do need hope. They do need love. Instinctively, Jesus stops to meet those needs.
In other words, He begins construction of a bridge.
This, unfortunately, is not the response of the twelve disciples. What do they do? They come to Jesus and say, “Jesus, it’s late. Jesus, we’re tired and hungry, and now these people are complaining about being tired and hungry. Send them away.”
The disciples are saying, in essence, “Jesus, we want to isolate and not engage; we want to retreat and not influence; we’re not interested in serving them. Jesus, you meet our needs, and send these people away to meet their own needs.”
This is the disciples’ mindset, so I love what Jesus says next. He looks the disciples right in the eye and says, “You feed them.” I wish I could have been there to see their faces. Now, the lesson is about to begin.
Jesus continues, “You feed them. You serve. You engage. You influence. You move out from under your own needs and start meeting the needs of others.”
How do the disciples respond to this challenge from Jesus? How do they respond to Jesus’ command to be a bridge? They say, “Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis!?”
Or in non-Different Strokes language, “Whoa Jesus! This problem is too big. It’s beyond our ability. It’s beyond our resources. It simply cannot be done!”
Have you been there?...Don’t we tend to react the same way? We look at the problems in our community, in our state, in our nation, in the world, and think, “What can I do? The problem is so big, and I’m so small!”
When presented with big problems or big tasks, we respond just like the twelve disciples. “It won’t do any good. The need is too great. The problem is too weighty. The community is too corrupt, so why bother!?”
The problem, however, is that we ask the wrong questions. We ask, “What difference can I make?” when we should be asking, “What difference can Jesus make through me?”