Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21)
The "this" that Jesus had just heard was news about the violent death of his cousin, John, in prison. Jesus (and his disciples) would have been devastated and grief-stricken (and probably a bit scared for their own safety.) They head off out of town, away from the crowds and the busy-ness, for a remote bit of wilderness - space to get their heads around this news.
But the crowds track them down - Jesus isn't allowed time-out. And he responds as we always see him respond. He gives yet more of himself, putting their needs before his own, to the point of utter exhaustion and beyond.
Fair play to the disciples - they try to give him some space. They suggest sending the crowds away because it's getting late and they'll need to get to the shops and buy food before they close. (and then they and Jesus can have some time alone and digest this devastating news.)
Whatever Jesus is, he is rarely easy and straightforward. His response seems demanding and impossible at the same time: "You feed them!" Jesus can be utterly infuriating!
"We can't feed them - we have nothing to give them." (oh - except these fish and these loaves.)
"You feed them!", says Jesus, "Don't come to me claiming you have nothing to give - you have plenty to give - see?"
It's an uncomfortable message for those of us who often feel overwhelmed by the never-ending needs of communities around us - it feels like emptying the sea with a teaspoon - we can't feed them, we have nothing to give - the issue is too big.
Maybe we sometimes use the excuse that because we can't fix everything we don't try to fix anything. Jesus seems to be telling us - go out and give what you've got, even if it doesn't seem like much - and you'll be amazed at how far it goes! Without the 5 loaves and the 2 fish - nobody is getting fed...
I have a much more personal story to tell about this in our Forum, "Topic of the week" - why not come and join the conversation about this on there?
Learn more: Topic of the week