And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?” But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.
The disciples had just returned from a time of sharing the gospel as Jesus had sent them out in pairs to tell the good news. They were probably excited about this time, but also tired. Jesus called them to find a deserted place and rest awhile.
Jesus recognized that there is a time to work but also a time to rest. Way back in the beginning, in creation, we need this principle of the need to rest. After six days of creation, Genesis tells us that God rested on the seventh day. We know God did not need to rest, but He was setting an example, a guide to us. Sometimes we can be so busy “doing” that we do not take the time we need to “be.”
The multitudes saw them leaving and hurried to join them. To the disciples, this was probably a cause of stress and they may well have resented them. But Jesus had compassion.
Interesting that when he had compassion his first response was not to feed them, to heal them, but to teach them. For many following Jesus was just to get their physical needs met, but Jesus wanted more for them than that. Today, how much of our prayer time is spent on our physical needs rather than taking time to just draw closer to Jesus?
Although His first priority was for their spiritual needs, He also recognized the physical need and wanted to meet that.
The disciples, despite all the miracles they had seen Jesus do and despite their successful preaching tour they had just returned from, still did not truly recognize what Jesus could do. They questioned how they could feed the multitude.
Jesus told his disciples to give them something to eat. But they just did not “get it.” They felt they had nothing to give. Their response was to send them away empty. How many times does Jesus call on us to minister to someone but our response is that we cannot do anything?
Jesus told them to go and see what food they did have. God always begins with what we do have. I think of something I often told my church when I was a pastor.
- Start where you are
- Use what you have
- Do all you can
They ate until they were filled. Afterwards, there was food left over. If anyone went away hungry, it was their fault for not taking what they needed. The Early Church clearly remember this great miracle and took comfort that Jesus would meet their needs. Much of early Christian art, especially on the walls of the catacombs, show pictures of loaves and fishes.
Jesus is our example of how we should respond to those in need, not the disciples who wanted to send them away. But as Jesus, taking what we have and doing what we can knowing that with Jesus’ help we can much more than we think possible.
James 2:14-17 – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.