[14] When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. [15] 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 they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” [16] Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

Matthew 14:14-16

When I was travelling in the US a few years ago, we arrived in the city of Rochester quite late. We were keen to get food so asked the receptionist what time the hotel’s restaurant closed – only to be told that they had already packed away for the night. We asked if there were any good restaurants nearby, but apparently they too had all closed! This wasn’t really what we had expected in the centre of a large American city! We ended up retiring to our room and ordering a pizza. That in itself is a whole other story – but perhaps I’ll save that one for another day!

This morning’s passage comes from Matthew’s Gospel, and Matthew has turned his attention back to Jesus. He is still being followed by large crowds of people – about 5,000 men at this point, plus associated women and children. Jesus’ overwhelming priority is to teach the crowds the Gospel. It is crucial to him that they understand that they are all sinners who fall short of God’s expectations, and that if they want to ensure that they do not find themselves enduring eternal torment, they must repent from their sin, place their trust in him and follow him in all that they do.

Yet Jesus wasn’t only concerned about the spiritual lives of his followers. Matthew records that “he had compassion” on the crowd. He was moved by them, by their condition, and felt overwhelming love for them.  He knew the impact that sickness and disease has on humanity in their fallen state, and so he dedicated time to healing those in the crowds who were ill.

It was getting quite late in the day, and the disciples were concerned that the people who were following Jesus would be getting hungry. Maybe they were aware that hungry people are often angry people, and the atmosphere might change unless something was done. Maybe they were doing that thing whereby you express concern for the welfare of others, but you’re secretly concerned about your own. Who could blame them for being hungry after a day following Jesus! 

The disciples’ response is to urge Jesus to call it a day and to send the crowd away so that they could get themselves something to eat. They were no doubt confused and surprised by Jesus’ reply – “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

I can imagine them looking out at the crowd of seven, eight, ten thousand plus people, and thinking to themselves, “has Jesus gone completely mad? How on EARTH could we possibly provide food for this number of people!”

The story that follows is one which I’m sure you’re familiar with. Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish, prayed and gave thanks, then broke it and got the disciples to distribute the food. Everyone present ate their fill – and 12 basketfuls of food were leftover at the end!

What strikes me about these verses is how Jesus’ concern for the people was not just on a spiritual level – of course he wanted then to understand their sinfulness, to repent and to follow him. Jesus’ concern was also on a practical and physical level – he wanted to ensure that the crowd were fed, and fed until they had eaten their fill.  No-one was left hungry. There was plenty leftover. 

Sometimes we associate a life of following Christ with a life of poverty and hardship. But if we place our trust in Jesus and strive to follow him, we can be assured that he will provide us with the essentials we need for living. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we will never find ourselves experiencing hardship. Indeed, earlier in the same chapter of Philippians, Paul writes:

[12] I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. [13] I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 

Philippians 4:12-13

Whatever our situation, ultimately, if we follow Christ, we can rely on his strength in order to sustain us through good and bad times. We can learn – from Paul, and from Christ – “the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

So, Jesus is concerned not just with our spiritual needs, but our physical needs. He will supply us with all we need to live – whether that be practical sustenance, or simply the strength we need to cope in periods of hardship. 

Leave a Reply