I’ve wondered before at the compassion Jesus had to muster for the crowds that afternoon, when all he really wanted was to be alone to grieve after learning that his cousin and friend, John the Baptist, had just died. It’s amazing to think about all of the people he must have healed or taught or sat down to listen to in the midst of his grief. And I’ve always wondered what it was that he said to himself when he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke that bread before doing what he did with it.

But the disciples were there, too. And while it’s easy to wonder about all of the other stuff – to focus on the size of the crowds and the lack of food and the miracle of it all – this time around, I found myself thinking more about the disciples.

It had been a long day, and they were probably tired. “Come on, Jesus. Time’s up. Let’s lose this crowd and get something to eat,” they said. “These people are probably hungry and ready to get some food for themselves anyway. Let’s get them out of here so we can do the same.”

And in the face of their questions… in response to their doubts… in spite of their laziness, whatever it may have been for them, Jesus says, “YOU give them something to eat.”

“What do you mean, ‘feed them’? Maybe you haven’t noticed, Jesus, but there’s, like, 5,000 of them on this hill and all we brought with us is a couple of stinky fish and a few loaves of bread.”

YOU give them something to eat.”

See, the miracle’s a good one and it makes a great story, but if we only focus on what Jesus prayed or on trying to figure out how he did what he did, or on the crowds or the fish or the bread – we’re missing the point. For me, the Gospel – the Good News – in the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is found in Jesus’ short and simple response to the disciples.

YOU give them something to eat.”

Sure, the disciples are still skeptical. Yes, Jesus does whatever he does to make the food go as far as it did. But what He says and what the disciples do is even more profound and powerful, if you ask me: “YOU give them something to eat.” Don’t send them away. Don’t look for a way out. Don’t hope for someone else to do it. Don’t wait for tomorrow, even. “YOU give them something to eat.”

And don’t we sound and act like the disciples too much of the time? We don’t have enough bread – whether that means time or money; energy, willingness, or ability; faith, love, compassion, or whatever. We’re skeptical. We’re pessimistic. We’re preoccupied, distracted, uninspired, selfish, insecure, unconvinced – just like those disciples were that day. A lot of the time, if you’re anything like me, you’re just downright full of excuses.

But just like the disciples in the Gospel, Jesus gives us something greater than even our best excuses. He gives us more than just another miracle, too. He gives us something better even than bread and fish to chew on. Jesus reveals to us just what a high opinion God has of not only the lost and lonely – the sick and needy people on that hillside that day for whom he shows so much compassion – but also of those who believe in and who want to follow him so faithfully.

What I hear Jesus saying is, “Don’t wait for someone else to do it.” “Don’t pretend you don’t have the time or the skills or the resources to do God’s bidding in the world.” “Don’t pretend you’re not qualified or capable.” “Don’t put it off for another day or time or moment when it might be more convenient for you.” “Don’t even wait for me to do it in your place.”

YOU give them something to eat.”

Joey Keith

Director of Regions 4 & 5