Theme: Working through Others
In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus was teaching his disciples to minister to the needs of others, and that our own service needs to follow in this way.
Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
Now the second thing I see in the story is that Jesus in his compassion for the masses works to help them through other people. You find that in Matthew 9, which I mentioned was where Jesus had compassion on the people because they were harassed and helpless. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plenteous, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into the harvest field” (v. 38). We know that verse. You always have those verses preached on at mission’s conferences. We’re told there are a lot of masses out there, who are like sheep without a shepherd. Workers are needed, and we are to have compassion on them and are to ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into that harvest of the masses.
This is true, of course, but that’s not all. What happens in the next chapter? Chapter 10 begins by telling us, “So he called his twelve disciples to him, and he gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” And then from verse 5 we see that Jesus gave instructions to those disciples he was sending out. So you have the first great missionary teaching in this Gospel. That’s how Jesus responds in compassion to the masses. The first thing he does is take the twelve who are with him and send them out.
Now we come back to the story of the feeding of the five thousand, and what do we find? Well, Jesus is going to heal them and he’s going to do it miraculously. Yes, that’s true. But how does he do it? He does it through the disciples. We find a bit of the dialogue here.
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 says to them, “They don’t need to go away. Give them something to eat.” They say, “Well, we only have five loaves and two fish.” So he says, “Bring them to me” (vv. 15-18).
So there’s the first point in which he involves them. He involves them in the dialogue. He says, “What do you have?” They only have five loaves and two fish. Well, he says, “Give them to me.” So they have the job of bringing to Jesus that which they have. And then Jesus takes it and he does the miracle of multiplying the bread and the loaves. Then what does he do? He directed the people to sit down on the grass. He took the loaves, gave thanks, and broke them. Then verse 19 tells us that he gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the people. Jesus is exercising compassion and feeding the people, but he is doing it through other people.
In John’s account of this story, we see the names of the disciples involved. He has a little dialogue with Philip, and we see that Andrew is brought into the story. Andrew brings in the boy, who is the one who had the five loaves and the two fish. Barley would make the poorest kind of bread. And though in English they are called loaves, that’s not really what they were. They were just little flat cakes that didn’t have any yeast in them. And the two little fish were probably like sardines that had either been dried out or smoked. That’s what he had. Jesus takes this little boy’s meager portions and works through them, using his disciples, to feed the masses.
What I want you to see here is that what Jesus does at the end of Matthew 9 and 10, and what Jesus does here in Matthew 14, are not only parallel, but are actually the same thing. He is taking care of the spiritual hunger of the masses. In the one case it’s done by means of actual loaves and fish. This miracle, combined with his teaching, show what Jesus is able to do for their souls.
Now the third thing is this. In order to send his disciples out and use them, he had to teach them or train them. We see some aspects of that training in this story, as well as in the next one when he walks on the water. In the next chapter concerning what is clean and unclean, he has to teach them to get over their prejudices. Then there’s an illustration of that in the faith of a Canaanite woman. Throughout this whole section we see how he teaches and trains them for the work he has for them to do.
What does he teach them here in the story of the feeding of the five thousand? In the first place, he teaches them that sending people away is no solution. You say that’s a silly thing to mention. No, I don’t think so, because that’s what they wanted to do. There was that great big crowd, and the disciples said, “Look, it’s getting late. Send the crowd away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Have you ever thought that that is always the solution that the disciples were prepared to propose? In chapter 15 when the Canaanite woman appears, what do they say? They say in verse 23, “Send her away, because she keeps crying out after us.” This woman was bothering them, and they wanted Jesus to get rid of her. Again in chapter 19, where people were bringing the children to Jesus, what do the disciples say? They rebuked those who brought them. When people presented a problem, the disciples wanted to get rid of them. Jesus had to teach them wanting people sent away was no solution to the problem at all. A disciple of Jesus must reach out to them.
I think that is particularly significant in this story because at the very beginning of it we learn that the reason Jesus was over there on the other side of the Sea of Galilee was because he was tired and needed to be alone with his disciples to continue to teach them. This was a very crowded area of the world. There were hundreds of villages in this very small geographical area of Palestine, and Jesus was pressed by the people all the time, even when he was trying to prepare his disciples and to pray. Because of the need to privately teach the disciples, one would think dismissing the crowds after a long day would be a good idea. And yet that isn’t the way Jesus responds.
If you and I are following in the steps of the Master and he’s training us to do what he was obviously training the disciples to do, the first thing he has to teach us is that people are precious and we mustn’t send them away. I’m almost afraid to say that, because I know how that works. God has a way of taking you up on that. And I am guilty of this as well. The disciples did not want to deal with crowds anymore. But you see, Jesus said people are a priority.
How does Jesus demonstrate his compassion through other people, not only in this story, but also in chapters leading up to it?
In what ways does Jesus teach or train his disciples? From our story of the feeding of the five thousand, what is the first lesson Jesus needs to teach them?
Reflection: Have you recently acted like the disciples in wanting to ignore someone’s need because it was inconvenient or because you had other things you wanted to do? What will you do to guard against that kind of reaction the next time someone needs your help?