Sunday, August 03, 2008

You Give Them Something (Matthew 14:13-21)

I've noticed sometimes I will glide past some of the things Jesus may tell his disciples because I know how the story ends. Although they often operate in full dunce mode, they will, following Jesus' death and resurrection, sell themselves out to proclaim the gospel. According to church tradition, only John dies a natural death, and that's after he spent years in exile on a rocky island.

So I tend to figure I don't need to hear what he tells those guys, since they were the cream of the crop and I'm nowhere near that level. I forget, of course, that "those guys" started out nowhere near that level, either, and that Jesus' guidance for them was usually given when they were in that full dunce mode.

Here, for example, I need to pay attention to what Jesus says to his disciples and some of the things that are behind what he says, because I'm pretty sure he'd say the same things to me if he were here face-to-face. We know the story -- the crowd has followed Jesus out to the lakeshore, in what's apparently a pretty rural area. And "rural" in a country with the population density Judea had at the time is saying something. The day is ending, and the disciples know it will probably be something of a walk for the people to get to nearby villages and buy food. So they suggest Jesus wind things up and send the people away. Notice how they're not worried about food for themselves, which may mean they've already got some of their own, or it may not. We don't know for sure.

Jesus demurs and tells them, "You give them something to eat." They say. "Well, we've got a little bread and some fish but that's it." "Sit them down and bring that to me," Jesus says, and when they follow his instructions, he blesses the small meal and begins to pass it around. Not only does everyone get enough to eat, they have leftovers.

First, Jesus doesn't seem to let his disciples off the hook for their responsibility to the crowd. We're the people that brought them out here, he says. They wouldn't be miles away from dinner if they hadn't followed us. We can't go back on our responsibility just because it gets tough, can we?

Second, he understands the disciples don't have the necessary resources to do what's needed. They don't have enough food for a crowd this size. But he also knows that if he uses what they have, then he can make it do much more than they ever imagined.

What does that say to us? Well, I think it's something like this. I know I sometimes have the impulse to say that I've done everything I needed to do when I've brought someone to a place where they can meet Jesus. I've guided them to church, or I've explained things to them in a conversation, or I've prayed with them at camp or somewhere else. Now it's up to God! After all, I had a T-shirt that said, "Fishers of men: You catch them, he'll clean them," and they can't put it on a T-shirt if it's not in the Bible, can they?

But Jesus suggest we still have a responsibility to those whom we've brought out to meet him. We can't just walk away from them now. They're here because of us, and so some of their growth and discipleship is on us too.

Even though it's our responsibility, it's not our burden, because we don't have what it takes to do the work the new folks need done. We can't "clean" them or offer them salvation, because that's God's work. What we can do, and what Jesus asks us to do, is offer God whatever we do have, and let him use it to do the necessary work.

Perhaps you listen well when people tell their problems. That by itself may bring them out to meet Jesus and learn about him, but it doesn't save them or begin their relationship with him. Since you listened to them, though, and you offer yourself as a follower of Christ, God may use you to show them how well he listens to them also, and they can understand that God will take them, too. They may not have believed that before, but because you offered your abilities to God for his use, they can come to understand it now.

After all, when we share the good news with people, we don't stop with the headline. There's a story behind it, and that story includes not only us, but also the people we share it with, and the God who has saved us all.

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