Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Luke 9:10-20

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.

Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Can you imagine the excitement as the apostles returned and told Jesus "all they had done"? Their words must have tumbled all over each other. "Jesus! I spoke to a demon and it fled a young boy!" "Jesus! We healed four lepers outside the village, and their skin was instantly clean and restored!" "Jesus! Almost an entire village believed in the gospel!" "Jesus! We were driven from a village in a hail of rocks for blasphemy!"  Multiple books could be written on this conversation alone. He and his disciples tried to slip away for a time of prayer, meditation, and teaching following all that had occurred with his disciples and the death of John the Baptist.

But the crowds would not give Jesus and his disciples peace. As a mother of small children, I know how it feels to want a moment alone and not be able to find it. Jesus experienced this to a much greater degree. But instead of sneaking away in the middle of the night or barricading himself away from the crowds, he looked on them and had compassion. They looked like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. So he began the endless task of healing and preaching the good news.

The twelve wanted to send the crowds away for their evening meal and lodging. We know from John's account that Jesus asked Phillip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" Phillip was from the area and familiar with nearby villages. But Jesus was also testing his disciples. Phillip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" Another of his disciples, Andrew, spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" The crowd consists of 5,000 men, plus women and children. The size of the crowd is amazing in light of the fact that the neighboring towns of Capernaum and Bethsaida probably had a population of only 2,000 to 3,000 each. Perhaps some had followed the disciples back to Jesus, and we know people were flocking from all over to seek healing. Philip tells us how overwhelming the problem is, and Andrew tells us how hopeless and how meager their resources are. Can you identify with that feeling?

We all know what happened next. Jesus took the meager fare, blessed it, and began to break it. Pieces of bread and fish continued to miraculously appear. Some today try to explain away the miracle by saying the crowd saw the boy sharing and began to share among themselves. But according to Mark 6:43 all ate and were satisfied. Bread was regarded by Jews as a gift from God, and it was required that scraps that fell on the ground during a meal be picked up. So the disciples gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers! No, this was no mere spreading of goodwill. This was a sign that pointed all who truly looked to the Son of Man and the food of eternal life that he gives.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself (John 6:14-15). Jesus continued to reject the world's version of kingship to follow his Father's will. Jesus had to escape and avoid His persecutors. But even worse, Jesus even had to escape followers who didn’t clearly understand his ministry.

After this Jesus and his disciples have some quiet time for prayer and reflection. Everyone had an opinion about Jesus. He evoked both admiration and spite - loved by the poor, feared and hated by many political and religious leaders. He was alternatively called from God and from Satan. When he asks the disciples who the crowds think he is, they respond with many options. But when he asks who they think he is, Peter responds with his great confession. Jesus is no mere prophet, he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Who do you say Jesus is? He is more than an historical figure, a good teacher from one of many religious texts. He is more than a prophet of Judaism. He is the Christ come to save us all from sin and from ourselves. He desires to take the meager broken pieces you have to bring and transform your life.

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”  - John 6:68-69

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