How many times has a single word from the Bible captivated you? Or a handful of words that, by themselves, don’t even form a complete sentence? This happened to me the other morning while reading in Matthew 15 about the feeding of the four thousand. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with me three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, otherwise they might collapse on the way.” (Mt. 15:32.)
I’ve never thought too deeply about why Jesus wanted to feed the crowd other than the fact that they were hungry. Why else would you be intent to feed someone? But urging the disciples to bring Him their meager bread and fish wasn’t just about satiating hunger pangs. Jesus feared that if the crowds were to leave Him in their current state they might—and here are the four words that caught me—collapse on the way.
I’ve not been able to get those words out of my head because I’ve recently come into contact with so many people, especially during this time of year, who are on the brink of collapsing. Not from physical hunger (though this certainly happens) but from the loss of a child, the breakdown of a marriage, a wayward and defiant son or daughter, a chronic sickness that no one can get to the bottom of, a codependent relationship, depression, anxiety, or financial strain. I have a face in my mind for every one of these situations and I wonder sometimes, am I simply sending people away who are about to collapse?
We have this “luxury” in most of our church environments to sing next to, listen to the Word next to, and give a quick handshake or hug to people who are barely hanging on. We feel like we’ve done our job simply by showing up for church and saying hello to them. This is because, for the most part, we don’t know what to do. We’re just like the disciples who responded, “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to feed such a crowd?” Or in today’s terms, “Where will I get what it takes to help these people who need what I don’t have?” Most of us aren’t marriage counselors, doctors, therapists or financial strategists. We don’t know how to help. And yet Jesus says, “How many loaves do you have?” In other words, “Whatcha got? And bring it to me.”
I’ve been pondering this and am choosing to shore up the few fish and bread I have so Jesus can do what only He can—nourish those who are on the brink of collapse. I’ve been on that brink myself and it has, every single time, been God’s people who have sustained me. We can do this in very tangible ways like opening up our homes for those who need a meal, a listening ear and an encouraging word. We can give money to the friend who needs it to pay for that unexpected car repair or cover the rent or mortgage this month. What about sitting down to write a letter to the mom or dad who’s lost a child? How visiting the sick for prayer? What about an hour of your time over coffee with the one who’s struggling through loneliness?
I don’t know about you, but lately I feel like there are more impossible situations right in my community than ever before. I’m just like the disciples and I’m just like you—most of the time I’m not sure what to do. I’m in a desolate place when it comes to the kind of resources I think I need to help. I get in my own way when I think I have to save the world, when in reality Jesus simply says surrender to me what you have.
The truth is, we don’t have what it takes any more than the disciples had what it took. But we do have something. And when that something—our time, home, money, expertise—is surrendered to Jesus, multiplied supernaturally by Him, returned to us to then give away, the miracle happens. We are satisfied. And those who are about to collapse are nourished and renewed for another day. The disciples weren’t asked to solve world hunger, rather they were told to make sure that the people within their reach didn’t collapse on the way home. Who’s within your reach?