The Gifts in Ministry

Matthew 14:15-16 “As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’”

Asking Jesus to send the crowd away wasn’t really asking Jesus for help. It was an attempt to excuse themselves from having to help. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw an opportunity for ministry. He saw a chance to serve and to love. When the disciples looked at the crowd, and their location, and the lack of food, they saw only a problem. And it wasn’t a problem they wanted to deal with. I mean, why help people when you can just let them try to help themselves?

Since the disciples weren’t getting this ministry thing right away, Jesus turned around and gave the problem back to them. “Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’” He was interested not only in feeding these people. He was interested in growing his disciples into better leaders, and better servants. He didn’t want them to duck responsibility. He wanted them to take it. But he wanted them to do so leaning on his assistance.

That’s why this ministry he gave them was so much bigger than their resources, humanly speaking. “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. In one of the other gospels we hear Philip blurt out, “Eight month’s wages would not buy enough for each one to have a bite.”

Really, how much would it cost to feed more than 5000 people? Let’s say you got a great deal on the catering, and it cost between eight and ten dollars per plate. That’s forty or fifty thousand dollars! Let’s say you decided to prepare the food yourselves. Maybe you get by for ten or fifteen thousand dollars. Then there’s the logistical problem for 12 men–that’s mostly fishermen, not professional cooks or chefs– having to prepare that much food that quickly. Jesus gave them a ministry far bigger than they could afford or staff, humanly speaking.

What is Jesus teaching us here? He isn’t teaching us to be irresponsible. He doesn’t want us to bite off more than we can chew. That would be tempting God. He still expects us to be good stewards of the resources he has given us. He wants us to live within our means, both as a church and as individuals.

But Jesus doesn’t want to teach us that we can get by entirely on our careful and clever planning, either. Sometimes he himself will drop a bigger mission into our laps than we can hope to afford or accomplish on our own. He intends to leave us no choice but to seek his help. Then we would be trusting God. We already know we can’t solve the problem of our sin ourselves. We have no choice but to rely on his grace and forgiveness. Apply that here. Apply that to the rest of life. He wants us to find his power and love hidden in our helplessness and need.

He even teaches us how it’s done. “‘Bring them here to me,’ he said.  And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied…” First, Jesus takes the food the disciples have and puts it to work. God doesn’t give us our resources to hoard and save. He intends us to use them up and put them to work.

Next, he prays. He teaches us to look to heaven for our help, and with an attitude of thanks for what we have, even if it seems very little. Let God make it stretch to cover our needs.

Finally, he doesn’t tackle this project alone. He makes use of his human resources. All of the twelve are pressed into service distributing the food. God’s work gets done best when all his people find a way to be involved.            

Jesus mercifully fed the multitudes, but he gave these twelve men something more. Perhaps they grew as much as the bread and fish on this day. The crowds received their healings and food, but the twelve received grace for their souls and strength for their hearts. Here our Savior demonstrates his grace and forgiveness in continuing to involve us in his mission, though we might prefer to do something else. Here he proves his promise to provide all we need for body and soul, faith and life, though we may forget to seek his help.

Jesus is still giving us gifts, even when he gives us work to do.

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