“And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)
Meal times with the Master could be unpredictable for the twelve. On some days it was as basic as plucking a few heads of grain from stalks in the field as they journeyed between assignments. If they had the good fortune to be lounging around at Martha’s place in Bethany, the disciples could be assured of being fussed over. At a wedding feast, their friend ensured the wine kept flowing. When wealthy Zacchaeus finally climbed down from that sycamore tree in Jericho, Jesus invited himself over to the tax collector’s home and the twelve tagged along. Good times for all.
A few meals got incredibly complicated. On two separate occasions, thousands sat on a hillside enraptured by Jesus’ words for days. Then Jesus had the audacity to tell the disciples to feed the famished gathering as if finding provisions for four or five thousand was an everyday occurrence. The disciples had a better idea: send the hordes away to find their own food. Why should the disciples have to cater to them anyway?
Jesus was inherently gracious and generous, even when his guests were scattered on a hillside. These people were like “sheep without a shepherd,” and since he was the Good Shepherd, he was determined to nourish his flock. If the disciples were willing, he might teach them a thing or two in the process.
The flabbergasted disciples made certain to express their distaste for his ridiculous request. “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4). Good point. Humanly speaking, this assignment was clearly impossible. But Christ was never suggesting they manage this on their own. He was testing them, intent on them recognizing that he alone could miraculously manufacture sufficient quantities. When faced with any insurmountable task their first reaction should always be to appeal to him for the answer.
The Lord might never ask us to feed thousands at an outdoor festival in the middle of nowhere. But he might suggest we manage other extremely difficult assignments. Before we stammer incredulously, whine incessantly, or ignore him altogether, let’s turn our focus to the Master of the Universe. He’s recorded lots of scenarios in his Word to help us trust him with ours. And he is still concerned for the lost sheep populating our countryside and city centers around the world.
Elizabeth A. Mitchell
Photo: Paul Westel