By J.R. Miller
Matthew 14:13-21; 15:29-39
"As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed by land from many villages. A vast crowd was there as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick."
It was just after the death of John the Baptist. John's disciples went and told Jesus of their great sorrow. Their grief touched the heart of their Master, and He withdrew, seeking a little season of quiet. The best comforter in our times of trouble is God--and when our hearts are sore, we can do nothing so wise as to flee into the secret of His presence!
Jesus went out in a boat to cross the lake. But the people saw the boat departing and flocked around the lake to meet Him on the other side. As He stepped from the boat, the multitude began to gather, eager to see Him. Although He was seeking rest, His compassion drew Him to the people that He might help them.
It was always thus that Jesus carried people's sorrows. When He looked upon the great throng who had flocked after Him and saw among them so many suffering ones--lame, sick, blind, palsied--His heart of compassion was stirred. When we remember that Jesus was the Son of God, these revealings of His compassion are wonderful. It comforts us to know that there is the same compassion yet in the heart of the risen Christ in glory. He did not lose His tenderness of heart when He was exalted to heaven. We are told that as our High Priest, He is touched by ever sorrow of ours. Every wrong that we suffer--reaches Him. Every sorrow of ours--thrills through His heart. It was not their hunger, their poverty, their sickness, nor any of their earthly needs that appeared to Him their greatest trouble--but their spiritual needs. Our worst misfortunes are not what we call calamities. Many people may seem prosperous in our eyes, and yet when Christ looks upon them He is moved with compassion, because they are like sheep with no heavenly Shepherd.
Yet the first help Christ gave that day, was the healing of the sick. He thinks of our bodies as well as our souls. If we would be like Him, we must help people in their physical needs--and then, like Him, also, seek further to do them good in their inner life, their spiritual life. There are times when a loaf of bread--is better evangel than a gospel tract. At least the loaf must be given first, to prepare the way for the tract.
As the day wore away, it became evident that the people were very hungry. They had brought no provisions with them, and there were no places in the desert where they could buy food. Combining the stories in the different Gospels, we get the complete narrative of what happened. Jesus asked Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (John 6:5). Philip thought it was impossible for them to make provision for such a throng. "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" The apostles could think of no way to meet the need of the hour, but by dispersing the people. "Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." To this suggestion the Master answered, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
We are like the disciples. We are conscious of having but little of our own with which to help or bless others--and we conclude hastily that we cannot do anything. If we feel responsibility, we meet it by deciding that it is impossible for us to do anything. Our usual suggestion in such cases, is that the people go elsewhere to find the help they need. We suggest this person or that person who has means, or who is known to be generous, thus passing on to others the duty which God has sent first to our door. We are never so consciously powerless and empty in ourselves, as when we stand before those who are suffering, those in perplexity, or those who are groping about for peace and spiritual help. Our consciousness of our own lack in this regard leads us often to turn away hungry ones who come to us for bread. Yet we must take care lest we fail to do our own duty to Christ's little ones.
Jesus said to His disciples that day, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." That is precisely what He says to us when we stand in the presence of human needs and sorrows. He says, "Feed these hungry people!" There is no use sending them to the world's villages--there is nothing there that will feed them. Nor need you send them to people who seem to have more than you have--they have no duty in the matter. Whenever Christ sends to us those who are need, whether it be for physical or spiritual help--we may not lightly turn them away. The help they actually need--we can give them. They would not have been sent to us if it had been impossible for us to do anything for them. If we use the little we have in Christ's name, He will bless it so that it shall feed the hunger of many.
We learn how to use our resources by studying the way the disciples fed the multitude that day. The first thing they did was to bring their loaves and fish to the Master. If they had not done this--they could not have fed the people with them. The first thing we must do with our small gifts--is to bring them to Christ for His blessing. If we try with unblessed gifts and powers to help others, to comfort the suffering, to satisfy people's spiritual hungers, we shall be disappointed. We must first bring to Christ whatever we have, and when He has blessed it, and then we may go forth with it.
The miracle seems to have been wrought in the disciples' hands--as the bread was passed to the people. They gave and still their hands were full. In the end all were fed. So with our small gifts, when Christ has blessed them, we may carry comfort and blessing to many people.
It was a boy who had these loaves. Here is a good lesson for the boys. Someone say that this boy was a whole Christian Endeavor Society himself. He and Jesus fed thousands of people with what ordinarily would have been a meal for but one or two. The boys do not know how much they can do to help Christ bless the world through the little they have. The young girl who thinks she cannot teach a class in Sunday-school, and takes it at last tremblingly but in faith, finds her poor barley loaf grow under Christ's touch, until many children are found feeding upon it, learning to love Christ and honor Him. The young man who thinks he has no gifts for Christian work finds, as he begins that his words are blessed to many.
We must notice, also, that the disciples had more bread after feeding the multitude, than they had at the beginning. We think that giving empties our hands and hearts. We say we cannot afford to give--or we shall have nothing for ourselves. Perhaps the disciples felt so that day. But they gave, and their store was larger than before. So the widow's oil was increased in the emptying (1 Kings. 17:12-16). The disciples said that Mary's ointment was wasted when she poured it upon the Master's feet (John 12:3-8). But instead of being wasted--it was increased, so that now its fragrance fills all the earth.