Feeding the Five Thousand
30 Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.
33 But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. 34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. 35 When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. 36 Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”
37 But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give themsomething to eat?”
38 But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”
And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.”
39 Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. 41 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. 42 So they all ate and were filled. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. 44 Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.
I could see Jesus sitting with His disciples, His heart swelling with love and pride for His disciples, who had just come from their first missionary tour, full of stories and testimonies and praises for God. For Jesus, it must have been a blessing, for He had just heard that His cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded. So He took them out onto the boat to feed them and give them rest. Perhaps it’s on the boats that Jesus and His disciples felt most comfortable, and most at peace.
Though they meant to escape the crowds, it was those very people who saw them leaving. In my mind, it began with one. A sailor pulling his boat into the dock, perhaps, or a fisherman folding up his nets after fishing all morning. He was the first one to see Jesus leave in the boat in the disciples. He was the first one to start running.
I could hear his friends calling to him, “Oy, where do you think you’re going? We still have so much to do today!”
He turns to them, hope alight in his eyes. “Didn’t you guys see? That was Jesus! If we take the boat back out we’ll miss Him. I’m going to go hear Him speak.”
“But you’ll have to run so far!”
“I don’t care!” he yells behind his shoulder with a laugh. “I’m going to go hear Jesus!” The others look at each other, smile, laugh, and catch up with their friend.
They pass by so many people, each of them bent over their own tasks, for I’m sure it wasn’t the Sabbath. They all ask, “Where are you going?”, to which they reply, “We’re going to go see Jesus!” And each in turn put down their tools, their work, their livelihoods, and they run. They run with their families, their friends, their enemies, across cities and hills and valleys. The mothers carry their babies and the children struggle to keep up. But their numbers increase until they finally catch up with Jesus and His disciples. Can you just imagine? They go in the boat to avoid the crowds, and when they arrive at their destination, over 5,000 people have arrived as well.
I watch this, this grand Exodus, and I wonder – why? What was it about Jesus that inspired such a spontaneous rush of people? This is more than just fanfare, the way they run, it almost seems desperate. As though they are searching for something, something more valuable than what they can make at their work at the end of the day. Something so precious they would run the miles to get to Him. Now remember, these aren’t rich folks. They don’t have the luxury to drop their tools – some of them were giving up a whole day of meals, and others perhaps a week. Yet still, they ran. Some thought of Him as a miracle worker, some thought of him as the promised King who would save them from Rome, few knew Him to be the Savior. Whatever drove them, they knew they would find it in Jesus. They knew He would make them whole.
Such beautiful hunger! Isn’t this what God wants of us? To not just walk towards Him, but to run to Him? To be so desperate for His love and His mercy and grace that we literally drop everything and run. The crowds grew to the thousands, and they all stood before Jesus hungry, desperate, expectant, and His heart was moved to compassion for them. And so He met them where they were. He fed their souls, and soon, their bodies as well.