Scripture: Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan. Matthew 15:32-39 ESV
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Observation: In yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus traveled on foot to the Gentile region of the Decapolis, where he hiked a steep hill and proceeded to heal the sick and lame from the crowd that pursued him. Marveling over his miraculous powers to bring hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute (never before performed in Israel), the crowd glorified “the God of Israel,” a title not used by Jews (click here to read it).
So the above story is scene two of the crowd of Gentiles who seek healing and wholeness. And similar to feeding the five thousand Jewish men and their families (14:13-21, click here to read the passage and here to read this earlier Daily Focus), Jesus provides four thousand men and their loved ones. Unlike the first feeding of the masses, Jesus initiates the discussion with his disciples and expresses his compassion for the people since they have already been with him for three days. And even though his disciples saw him multiply the fish and loaves earlier, they again respond pragmatically without considering Christ’s miraculous powers. Patiently, he inquires about the extent of loaves in their possession and then commands them to bring the seven loaves and a few small fish.
Following the protocol from the earlier feeding of five thousand, Jesus directs the crowd to sit, takes the loaves and fish, thanks the Father for them, and distributes the food through his disciples to the masses. And like the previous story, all have their fill, and they gather the leftovers in baskets—seven this time (the number 7 in Hebrew symbolizing fulfillment or completion).
Takeaway: While three days without food pales compared to Christ’s earlier forty-day fast in the wilderness undergoing testing, he does not impose this higher standard for himself on the crowd. Instead, Jesus, deeply moved by their perseverance in the hope of finding healing, feels compassion for them. Meanwhile, the disciples still have much to learn about taking their Master’s Gospel of grace to the unsaved, for it is far more than preaching. Fortunately, with the infilling of the Holy Spirit, they will learn to be present with the message and feel compassion and concern for the beggars who initially look for a handout, the angry mobs driven by fear, or the jailer who is only doing his job. And when they persevere, they will see fear and despair in the eyes of their recipients give way to hope and joy. But they must move outside their comfort zones and place others’ needs before their interests, trust the Father and Son to redeem missteps, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit, who will mature their faith along the way.
Our takeaway? It’s the same. While picking low-hanging fruit (those ready to receive the Gospel) is exciting, the evangelism process is often protracted and will expose the areas where we need to mature in our faith. But the reward is great, for we see the transformation of others’ lives and our own. And a good indication that we are on track is the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit growing in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23a). Indeed, along with the taking of the body and blood of Christ at his table (see the above linked Daily Focus on the feeding of the five thousand), this is our spiritual food from which our souls find the sustenance to serve others with full-orbed Gospel care.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who poured himself out to meet all the needs of those searching for hope with his full-orbed Gospel care. We confess, though, that while we are enthusiastic about sharing his Good News, we struggle to self-sacrifice along the way. So would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit to bring ourselves with the message so that all concerned might experience the transformation of the mind, heart, and soul? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling