Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging. . . (Luke 9:12).
The familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand is the source of much comfort. It reminds us that Jesus can and will provide for our needs. It reminds us that even a small gift can be used by Jesus to do great things.
But I find encouragement in the story for an entirely different reason: I am encouraged to see that I am not alone in giving Jesus instructions. Like the twelve, I often think I know exactly how certain situations need to be handled. Prayer often becomes a time for me to lay out the plan.
The crowds had tracked Jesus and the twelve to Bethsaida. Jesus had welcomed them. He talked about the Kingdom and healed the sick among them. With five thousand in attendance it’s not hard to understand how the service ran a bit long. It was beginning to get late. Time for the twelve to interject their assessment of the situation.
“Send the crowd away so they can get food and find a place to sleep.” Fred Craddock observes that this advice was not an act of faithlessness. The apostles, genuinely concerned about the welfare of the people, are simply advising Jesus to do what common sense dictates. Wrap it up, give the benediction, and send the congregation back to town before everything closes.
But Kingdom living isn’t always friendly to common sense. There is a proverb that tells us to trust on the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5). Life in the Kingdom is about learning how to lean in a new direction.
In the early days of my son’s little league experience I became frustrated over my inability to help him catch the ball. He was playing it safe, sidestepping the ball. When the ball came to him, he would instinctively step slightly to the side, extend his hand with the fingers of his glove angled downward, and catch the ball in an underhanded position.
Looking back, it is clear to me why he did this. When a ball appears to be coming right at your face it is instinctive to get out of the way. I was asking him to change his standard and preferred practice, to train himself in a new behavior that felt very uncomfortable.
When scripture tells us not to lean on our own understanding, it does not mean that we will abandon common sense. What we will do is lean in a new direction, placing our weight on something other than what we can see and make sense of. This isn’t easy. It’s like standing still when the ball is coming right at your face. It's like inviting the crowd to sit down instead of sending them back to town.
Is there something coming at you today that seems to demand a certain kind of response? Do you find yourself giving Jesus instruction about what needs to happen in that situation? Maybe Jesus is inviting you to lean in a new direction, to trust him more than you trust your own limited understanding of what’s happening to you. Jesus is prepared to handle whatever it is. We follow his instructions – not the other way around.
Lord Jesus, we want to acknowledge you in all our ways, but it’s hard for us to ignore our own understanding. Give us wisdom today and help us know how to lean on you rather than our own ways of doing things. Teach us to trust you. Walk with us and make our paths straight, we pray. Amen.