Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand from Matthew Chapter 14
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 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.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children (New International Version)
What if Jesus had listened to his disciples and sent the people back to their own lands so that they could buy food? What if Jesus had chosen not to have compassion on the people who’d gathered around him? What if Jesus had looked at the provisions which he and his disciples had and said, “we don’t even have enough to feed our own people. Send them away.” What if Jesus had said, “Well, I feel compassion for them, but there might be some people in this crowd who are just freeloaders and want to get something for nothing, so we’d better not give any of them food, just in case.” He could have easily said any of these things and no one would have blamed him. But, he didn’t say any of those things. Instead, Jesus said to his disciples, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
…YOU DO IT…
Now, one of the most fascinating things about this passage from Matthew is not in the passage itself, but in what precedes it. This event, this mass feeding, took place just after Jesus found out that King Herod had ordered John the Baptist beheaded as a gift to his wife. John’s head was brought to the queen on a platter and displayed for all of the guests to see. This surely would be considered an act of terrorism! No doubt the king’s guests felt terrorized and would think twice before crossing the royal couple–I know I would!
That’s what Matthew is referring to when, at the beginning of this passage, he wrote, “When Jesus heard what happened, he withdrew privately by boat to a solitary place.” Jesus most certainly would’ve been moved by this news. John, after all, was the man who baptized Jesus. What if some of those people in the crowd that day had come from the same place as the guards who captured and killed John? What if they had been or were servants in Herod’s household? Wouldn’t the safer thing be to turn them away from Jesus? Because, well, they just weren’t vetted enough to be sure.
What is happening to us? Why are we losing compassion for people who are truly hurting? Why must the little bit of compassion we do still have be tempered by fear? I don’t have answers to these questions, but my recent and ongoing struggle with anxiety has opened my eyes to a terrible truth: people just don’t care much about people anymore.
Christians are called to. . .
. . .heal the sick
. . .feed the hungry
. . .clothe the naked
. . .shelter the homeless
. . .mend the broken
. . .visit the imprisoned
. . .share Jesus
But, we’re not really doing much of any of that anymore. Modern Christians seem to have changed the rules. The calling now is to. . .
. . .fire the sick from their jobs so that they lose their health insurance
. . .blame the hungry for their hunger and deny them any assistance
. . .shame the naked for not having nice clothes and refuse to hire them because of it
. . .arrest the homeless for seeking shelter in a public place and close homeless shelters because they are ugly and “dangerous”
. . .ignore the broken because they should grow up and get over it
. . .build more prisons because there are a lot more people who should be there
. . .share Jesus but only after we wrap him in an American flag and only with people who are like us
I can say these things because I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus and I rely on him. So, don’t go calling me an atheist or anything. I’m certainly not that. I just happen to think that we are getting it all wrong when it comes to the way we are treating people. Christian compassion means that we see people the way Jesus sees people–desperately in need. That’s the way he saw you. That’s the way he saw me.
I am having a hard time rationalizing a way around this. You see, I’m all about safety and security. I’m all about personal responsibility. I’m all about making sure that resources are being used efficiently and effectively. But, Jesus kinda didn’t think about those things. Jesus just saw a bunch of hungry people and said “go feed them.” He didn’t ask where they were from. He didn’t ask who they were. He didn’t ask if they were sick or if they would be able to work for the food they were being given.
He just gave them some food.
I wonder how things would be. I wonder how people would be if maybe we stopped asking so many questions and just provided them with what they needed–food, clothes, a place to stay, medicine, a friend. I think most people are decent people, and given the chance…given just A CHANCE in life…will respond by taking the gift of compassion and giving it right back again.
Call me a dreamer. Call me a bleeding heart. Call me a fool. Maybe I am all of those things, but I’d rather be known as a fool who had compassion than a genius who turned people away.