You know those days when you’ve just had enough and not to get away from people?
Jesus knows the feeling, and when we catch up with Him in Matthew 6, He was in need of some serious R&R.
Having just heard that His cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded by king Herod (Matthew 14:1-12), Jesus boarded a boat to withdraw to a solitary place… but such a thing didn’t really exist for Him. He was a superstar at this point, and crowds awaited Him at nearly every stop. That was true on this day, as more than 5,000 men (not even counting women and children) surrounded Jesus’ boat as it pulled up on shore.
Needless to say, this was shaping up to be the opposite of a quiet day off.
But rather than send them away, Jesus “had compassion on them” and healed the sick. As evening approached, the disciples tried to wind things down and give Jesus the solitude He originally sought. Dinner seemed to provide a convenient breaking point: “Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy some food.”
But given a reprieve from His social responsibilities, Jesus disagreed with His followers: “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
I think it’s very important to note that Jesus didn’t have to feed these people. They followed Him to this place “on foot” (Matthew 14:13), so they were within walking distance of their homes or markets. No one was going to starve here. Plus, these people all came to Jesus in search of teaching or healing. No one expected a meal.
So why did Jesus insist on feeding them, despite (seemingly) having no food on hand?
Look at Mark’s telling of the event: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34)
The shepherd/sheep metaphor is common in the Bible (Psalm 23:1-3, Isaiah 40:11, and Ezekiel 34:31 are but a few examples), but this is one of my favorite mentions of it. A shepherd would never let his sheep starve. As a loving caretaker, not feeding his sheep would run counter to his very being.
So it is with Jesus. In this case, He felt such a love for these people that He wanted to nourish them not only spiritually, but physically as well.
Jesus feels the same about you today. If you follow Him to the shore and reach out to Him, He’ll forgo His wants and land His boat beside you. And He’ll bless you more than you ever originally expected.
I don’t know about you, but when I come before Jesus, I feel even lower than a sheep. Not only do I recognize my sin has made me completely unworthy of His attention, much less His love, but my needs feel so tiny in the grand scheme of Jesus’ power. Why would Jesus care about my upcoming performance review when millions are starving around the world? How can the health of my marriage compare with all those affected by COVID-19 or the racial unrest in our nation?
But Jesus doesn’t look at His sheep differently. He sees us with compassion and comes to us. And don’t think you’re leaving without a filling (spiritual) meal.