You’d think Jesus would get tired of us. Here he is trying to get a very well-earned getaway with his disciples, and suddenly a crowd shows up. And this isn’t just some small group of people from a neighboring village. This is 5,000 men and probably at least 5,000 women — and then there are kids and donkeys and goats and pigeons and it’s loud and chaotic and they all want something from Jesus.
He and his disciples see them coming, and you can almost hear the annoyance and then the panic in the men’s voices as Jesus asks where they can find enough bread so that the people may eat. And there’s a pregnant pause until Philip says what’s on everyone’s mind: “Even if we had a year’s worth of wages, we could still only afford to give these people a snack. Less than a snack.” And then Andrew, thinking he’d really show Jesus how impossible the situation was, grabs a kid from the front of the crowd and shows him the boy’s lunch. All there is in that basket is five barley loaves and a few fish. It’s a pauper’s lunch and no help at all.
But Jesus, who had come all this way to find rest, to watch the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee, to sit in quiet communion with his Father, sees the overwhelming needs in front of him and hears the stubborn doubt of those who know what he can do — and rather than sending everyone away, he says, “Sit down. Let me feed you.”
If we were there that day, we would see thousands of people setting down their burdens. We would see them resting on the grassy hillside as they waited for Jesus to serve them. And we would see Jesus walking from one group to the next, breaking off pieces of bread and giving them to the poor, the rich, the young, the old. On that day, everyone ate from the master’s hand and was more than satisfied because Jesus saw the crowd and had compassion on them. He knew that they were hungry.
But what were they hungry for?
As human beings, we are creatures of desire. We live our lives searching for the things we want, for whatever it is we think is good. We do this because we were created to be hungry, to look outside of ourselves for nourishment, for love, for protection. All good things — but, as many of us know and have experienced, we have a terrible habit of mistaking those good things for the Source of those good things. We think that financial security or professional achievement are the greatest good we can obtain, and so we go about sacrificing to what is nothing more than an idol. We, like the crowd in our story today, will rush to create whatever kingdom we want and totally miss the man in front of us — a man who loves us regardless.
And that is what is so striking about the God who made us, the God who redeems and sustains us. Jesus saw the crowd toiling up the hill that day and had compassion on them. He saw that they brought burdens — the sick, the injured, the demon-possessed, the hungry, the blind, the deaf — and he did not hold that against them. He didn't hold it against them that they never dared to ask for what they really needed: Him.
God knows that we are hungry, knows that our lives are marked by need and by scarcity. And God, who knows no want, who is perfect happiness and joy and goodness, chose to empty himself, chose to experience the hunger pangs, the dry throat, the aching desire for safety and love and rest so that we might taste the fullness of God’s love, so that we might realize that all our desires are met, are exceeded, in Christ alone.
When we bring our requests to God, he tells us to sit down. Jesus says to each of us, “set aside your burdens for just a moment and let me feed you. This bread that I give you may not heal the hurt or erase the anxiety, but it will give you strength, it will sustain you as we both pick up your burden and continue on our way.” And as we take Jesus’ hand, as we scramble to our feet and follow our savior, Jesus leads us on toward eternal life, toward unity with God’s life, toward a place where there are no more tears and no more pain, where there is instead light and love everlasting.
This is the hope we have, the hope we encounter every time we come to the Table, every time we listen to the Word. That there is one who is for us, who fed the 5,000 in the wilderness, who led God’s people through the desert and into paradise, who redeemed us from slavery and gave us an inheritance that is greater than we could ever ask or imagine. He is the one who is with us today, the one who is with us always. May he, according to the riches of his glory, grant each of us the strength to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, so that we, too, might be filled with all the fullness of God. AMEN.