At about this same time he again found himself with a hungry crowd on his hands. He called his disciples together and said, “This crowd is breaking my heart. They have stuck with me for three days, and now they have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they’ll faint along the way—some of them have come a long distance.”
His disciples responded, “What do you expect us to do about it? Buy food out here in the desert?”
He asked, “How much bread do you have?”
“Seven loaves,” they said.
So Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. After giving thanks, he took the seven bread loaves, broke them into pieces, and gave them to his disciples so they could hand them out to the crowd. They also had a few fish. He pronounced a blessing over the fish and told his disciples to hand them out as well. The crowd ate its fill. Seven sacks of leftovers were collected. There were well over four thousand at the meal. Then he sent them home. He himself went straight to the boat with his disciples and set out for Dalmanoutha.
This is another one of those stories that fascinates me. I always think, “Why were the disciples confused about what to do?” I mean, they’ve already seen Jesus feed the 5,000 so why would they think this would be any different? Where was their faith? Why didn’t they just bring the bread and fish to Jesus and ask him to multiply it?
The thing that really hit me this morning though was what was up with their attitude?
It seems like the disciples were just really frustrated and annoyed with Jesus. They didn’t even wait for him to say, “You feed them.” No, they interrupted him with a sarcastic comment about shopping in the desert.
What was their deal?
I think part of it had to do with the reality that they were still in Gentile land. They were still over in the area of the Ten Towns where Jesus had just healed a deaf mute. I have a feeling that the disciples, men of their time, really had no desire to care for or nurture the Gentiles. They had not yet fully grasped the universal nature of Jesus’ mission. This struggle about ethnic Israel and the Gentiles would extend well into the first two generations of the church. Peter doesn’t “get it” until Acts 10 when he is called to minister to Cornelius. Even then, it’s an ongoing battle within him.
We cannot underestimate the kinds of cultural and societal disdain ethnic Israel had for its neighbors and that its neighbors had for ethnic Israel. Actually, we probably can in some sense. The tensions and conflict in this area are still palpable today. Maybe that’s what we as Americans can’t comprehend. The distrust and the dislike of Israel and her neighbors extends thousands of years.
So, here we get this picture. Jesus knew that his disciples were struggling so he didn’t ask them to feed the people the way that he did with the people of Israel. Instead he was moved with compassion by these Gentiles who had been with him for three days listening to his teaching. He simply met their need and showed them grace.
Jesus met his disciples and the people of the Ten Towns where they were at. He didn’t expect his disciples to “get it” yet. Which is why he was also so moved by the Syro-Phoenician woman who did “get it.”
This morning what I’m walking away from this passage with is two things. First, leaders must be attuned to where the people within their community are at in their development. Second, leaders must be willing to allow their people time to grow, develop, and change. Nothing happens overnight.
Growth is not a finite game, it is an infinite one.