The People Are Hungry, but for What?

For now, supper will do.

Luke 9:10-17 (ESV)

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

The 5,000 was actually more like 10,000. Matthew’s account notes the rest of the crowd.

And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:21

The disciples divided them into 100 groups of 50 men each. Presumably some men brought families and some didn’t. So this is 100 groups of, say, 100 each. Try to imagine that crowd. Picture 100 people at a church picnic. Then picture 10 such groups in a row. Now picture 10 such rows in a field.

The amazing thing isn’t just that Jesus fed all those people; it’s that a mob that size followed Him when He withdrew to an isolated place. Only a tiny fraction of them could have heard him when he spoke.

This miracle is the only thing prior to the last supper that’s recorded in all four gospels. It’s a great portrait of His power and His love, but the portrait of his following is important.

These people are hungry for a lot more than just bread and fish.

But do they even know what they’re hungry for?

They thought they needed a king when they really needed a savior. That’s what makes charity so tricky. Nowadays, some people think they need a hand-out when what they need is the gospel.

But the real trick is to just love them. It’s OK (even glorious) to err on the side of giving someone what they want instead of what they need. That’s how we learn, and sometimes that’s how people learn to see grace.

While skill and experience matter, we need God to make us more compassionate. Pray for the Lord to soften our hearts. Ask the Holy Spirit to cure us of any self-righteousness.

Pray that we will be transformed into His likeness so that we will be deeply moved (as He was) by people’s needs.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.