“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” ~ Jesus
Most readers of this account in Matthew tend to focus on the miracle of little-to-no food becoming plenty and more than plenty. Of how five loaves and two fish, barely enough to feed Jesus and His twelve disciples, came to feed five thousand men, plus their families. The miracle.
But what about Jesus’ compassion? What about his directive?
Jesus had been traveling through all the towns and villages, teaching, preaching, and healing. Crowds of people were drawn to him.
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
Did you catch that? Jesus did not see them as a nuisance. He saw their need. And he had compassion for them.
Even after the brutal decapitation of his cousin and co-laborer, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ subsequent and understandable wish to withdraw to a solitary place, Jesus still did not view the needy masses that swarmed him as a bother.
“He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14
His disciples’ reaction on the other hand? Yeah. Not so much.
“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Matthew 14:15
You see, the disciples saw the crowds’ need too – dinner.
The difference? They thought to themselves, “Their dinner is their problem.”
Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. We can only guess at the disciples’ tone and intent here. But what we can see is that Jesus’ way of handling this situation was not the way any of His disciples had considered at the end of a long, weary day.
“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16
To the problem of ten to fifteen thousand hungry people, Jesus’ surprising solution was, “You give them something to eat.”
Can we keep this directive in mind as we watch certain political parties in power systematically pull the government out of, dismantle, and discard programs designed to meet the needs of the hungry, the marginalized, the young, the poor, the elderly?
Now, this is where the more conservative among us will dig in their heels, decry the evils of socialism, and declare such needs-meeting as the role of “the church” not the government.
But think about it, Christian. Have you been in a situation where you saw a need – the need of a person, a family, a group – a need you felt unequipped, unprepared, maybe even too inconvenienced to meet? Or maybe, like the disciples, you simply saw it as their problem, not really yours. Maybe you felt a gentle or not-so-gentle prompt from the Holy Spirit to not just pray but act, but then you reasoned your way out of it, or allowed yourself to be distracted until the prompting passed.
Goodness. I have.
Yeah, it’s not so easy to be quite so self-righteous in our judgment of Jesus’ disciples when we realize we have soooo done the same, is it?
Now . . . Multiply such scenarios a billion times over, and that’s about how well “the church” – which includes you and me, by the way – has been doing at the whole “needs-meeting” thing.
“If feeding and caring for people is the role of the Church not the Government—why are so many of them starving and hurting? You’ve been open for 2,000 years now.” ~ John Pavlovitz
Can we own that?
Can we note the difference between our way and Jesus’ way and choose the better?
Can we ask for better from our churches, our temples, our mosques, and our representatives in government – city, state, and federal?
“But the deficit!” the conservatives among us cry. “We can’t afford it!”
“‘Bring them here to me,’ he said . . . Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” Matthew 14:18-20
Jesus took the little his disciples did have to offer, and he made it more than enough.
“But that was a miracle!”
It was a miracle, yes, but one that started with a proper view of others in their need, compassion toward them, a willingness to act, and trust in the Lord God to meet and to multiply.
. . . Uh huh. What else ya got?
Miracles like this can still happen, ya’ll, and they have been happening through programs like Meals-On-Wheels for the elderly, Medicaid, the National School Lunch Program, and after-school programs that feed and provide for otherwise hungry children.
You know. The least of these.
And if you are still balking at allowing the federal government to contribute to the basket or lend a hand in delegating the distribution and demanding they stay out of it, I want you to consider what you are really and effectively doing.
You are obstructing Jesus.
You are rising up out of your place in the pew to boldly and belligerently stand in the way of the care and feeding of the hungry and vulnerable. You are ridiculously and cruelly slapping the food tray out of the willing hands of a federally funded program in front of the hungry child and elderly shut-in.
That’s not the behavior of a compassionate Christian, Christian. That’s the behavior of bullies.
Nothing, Christian, NOTHING has ever been stopping local volunteers and churches from donating time, money, resources, and warm bodies to fully fund and support these programs.
So if that’s true, if that’s the “conservative way,” if that’s the answer to every blessed need but the military, then WHY aren’t these programs for the young, the poor, and the elderly ALREADY fully-funded and in need of nothing in the way of support? Why?
THAT’S why federal funding is needed.
Face it. We humans are notoriously bad at being consistently other-focused and unselfish, and every loaf, every fish, every helpful hand here counts. Especially during seasons other than Thanksgiving and Christmas, when our collective sense of charity runs low and leaves the needy among us lacking.
“Charity is great, but it is no substitute for institutional justice.” ~ Thomas A. Earthman
Institution fills in the gaps in our charity. And all such justice requires is that we bring the needs we notice, our Christ-like compassion for the hungry, harassed, and helpless, whatever loaves and fishes we have in our basket, and set them before the Lord. Bring them before the Lord just as Jesus instructed, and delegate, delegate, delegate, just as Jesus did with his disciples. And wouldn’t you rather have a government that is willing to fill in those gaps in our charity than a government that refuses to?
Please. Let’s stop slapping away the already willing and helping hands of “We the people.” Instead, let’s join hands with our government – as many hands make light work – do the distribution, meet the needs, and “give them something to eat.”
We’ll all surely be amazed at what the Lord can do.