He replied, “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13).
In his book Things Unseen, Mark Buchanan recalls his days as a teaching assistant to Dr. Klaus Bockmuehl at Regent College. As a young theologian, Bockmuehl had known the renowned Karl Barth. On one occasion, Buchanan asked his mentor about his acquaintance with Barth. Bockmuehl shared this story.
There was an occasion when Bockmuehl was in Barth’s presence and found himself looking for something to say. He decided he would say something to honor this great theologian, so he thanked Barth for the contributions he had made to theological thought and to the life of the Church. He said to Barth, “When you are gone I pray that God will raise up another to do what you have done.”
Barth locked his gaze on the young Bockmuehl. “No,” he said. “Don’t pray that. You do it.” Barth’s words echo Jesus. “You give them something to eat.”
“You give them something to eat.” Those words must have baffled and stunned the twelve. There were five thousand men, as well as their family members, gathered in this remote place. Was Jesus serious? Did he really expect them to feed the crowd?
The answer is yes: he was serious. And the answer is no: they were not being asked to come up with a solution or figure out how to provide a meal. What Jesus is doing is extending an invitation. He is inviting them to a life of trust. He is offering them a chance to be involved in his divine mission. Only Jesus can satisfy the hunger of this crowd – but he will do it through his followers and the simple offering they bring to him.
Jesus was not asking his followers to do the miracle; he was including them in the holy mystery. He does the same with us.
We are surrounded every day by hungers and yearnings that ache to be filled. Only Jesus can do this. But he asks us to participate, to be a part of what he is doing. Just as the twelve instructed the masses to be seated in groups of fifty, just as they passed the baskets of food to the people, we too are the means by which Jesus meets the hungers of the world around us.
The danger lies in being preoccupied with our own hungers. It’s far too easy to listen to this story and fixate on how Jesus will feed us. Sure enough, Jesus does that – but then he invites you to be a part of something larger than yourself.
Those who have been fed will feed. Those who have been blessed will bless. Those who have been made whole will seek to extend healing. This is Jesus’ strategy for bringing heaven to earth. This is life in the Kingdom.
What kinds of hungers do you see every day? How does the yearning of soul express itself in your office, in your circle of friends, in your own home? In prayer we bring all of these to Jesus, and we ask him to include us in the holy mystery of his work. As you go through this day, hear the invitation: “You give them something to eat.”
Lord Jesus, we give you thanks for the way you meet our needs, for the way you satisfy the hungers we bring to you. Now we ask that you would use us as you do the same in the lives of others around us. We will not horde the grace given to us. Include us in your work and empower us to feed the hungry, to heal the hurting, to embrace the lonely – all in your name. Amen.