“When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, ‘This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them [the large crowd] away so that they may go into the surrounding villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ “
The disciples said, “Send them away.”
Jesus said, “You give them something to eat!”
The disciples said, “Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?”
Jesus said, “How many loaves do you have?”
In the above passage (Mark 6:33 – 44) we are told that when Jesus saw the large crowd that He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
The feeding of the five thousand is first and foremost a declaration that the Creator of the Universe, Yahweh who fed His people in the wilderness in Exodus, has come down from the heavens and down from Mount Sinai and is walking among mankind. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Mystery though it is – it is.
But then we find out just what this Messiah and Son is like – and we find that while He may look like us outwardly, yet inwardly He is in so many ways not like us – He shows us the distinctions so that we may learn to be like Him. He looks like us outwardly so that we may look like Him inwardly.
Jesus has compassion on the people – on the mass of people. His compassion does not just express itself by His teaching them many things, but also by His concern over their physical welfare (see also Mark 8:1-3). Perhaps Jesus has been waiting to see what the disciples would do, to see whether they would express concern for the people. It becomes quite late and the place is desolate. Perhaps the disciples’ stomachs are growling. They are thinking, “We have five loaves and two fish, we can’t eat in front of all these people, they need to leave, Jesus needs to send them away.”
“Jesus teaching people is all well and good, but now we have to get down to practical matters and they need to go fend for themselves – we have enough for ourselves but not for them.”
Jesus asks the disciples to look at what they have and not at what they don’t have. He asks them to put the welfare of others before themselves. As the disciples began distributing the food perhaps they were thinking, “What will be leftover for us to eat?” The disciples did not understand that the Creator of the Universe was the one blessing the food and breaking the loaves.
Jesus has compassion on the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd. He does not look at them as unworthy of His care and attention. He does not view them as outside the bounds of His love, as beyond teaching, as unqualified to be given food.
How is it that we in America, and in the professing church in America, often search for reasons not to feed people? We compare others with ourselves and if we feel that they are not putting forth the same effort as we are to better themselves then we think that they ought not to be fed. If they have problems in life that we don’t have (or that we appear to others not to have) then we think that they need not be fed. We want others to meet certain qualifications before we will feed them; and we often insist on qualifications before we will teach them – the primary qualification for teaching is that they come into our comfort zones as opposed to us leaving our comfort zones.
Jesus did not screen the individuals in the large crowd to ensure that their motives were pure for being there. He did not have them complete a questionnaire to eliminate derelicts, unemployed, substance abusers, or those with unstable personal lives. Jesus had compassion on them because they were as sheep without a shepherd. Sheep require care and protection. People who are messed up require care and protection – not rejection, not hunger.
We think in economic terms and economics is (whether we admit it or not) the arbiter of our minds – it is the arbiter of decision-making in the professing church. The dollar replaces the Cross in our thinking and people are seen in economic terms – “Is this person economically worthy for me, for us, to spend money on? Will we receive a return on our investment if we feed this person, if we clothe this person, if we house this person?” This is the voice of the American dollar.
The voice of the Cross says, “Jesus loves this person; he is created in the image of God; Jesus died for this person – no matter this person’s attitude or actions – how can I touch this person who is as a sheep without a shepherd.”
The voice of the dollar says, “Send them away.”
The voice of the Cross says, “Come unto me all you who are weary and with burdens and I will give you rest.”
The voice of the world says, “Let them buy food.”
The voice of the church should say, “Let’s give them what we have.”
Can we discern a difference between the voice of the world and the voice of the church? Sadly there are times when the voice of the world is more compassionate than the voice of the church – it was the disciples who said, “Send them away.”