Imagine that you are on the Greek island of Lesvos during the peak of the flight of Syrian refugees. Every day there are hundreds more people and you know that there are dozens more who likely died trying to make it to the shore. What do you do with these thousands of people who have come to your shore looking for help? You know some may have evil intent but most are looking for a new life in trying to escape a war-torn land. You could report it to the authorities and let them deal with it or you could hunker down and do nothing. Or you could pitch in and do what little you can. How would you respond to an overwhelming need?
In our ongoing study of Mark this morning, we see what Jesus does when he faces a situation of overwhelming need. But more importantly, we see what he expects his disciples to do as well. From this we can learn a great deal as to how we are to respond to the needs that exist around us that seem to be overwhelming. Let’s read Mark 30-44.
I. Jesus’ invitation to rest is seen in verses 30-32.
The disciples have just returned from a very grueling mission for Jesus. In verses 6-13 we saw that the disciples had been busy preaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick and are now reporting to Jesus all that had happened. Verse 31 says that one group of people after another were coming to the disciples. They were so busy on their mission that they didn’t even have a chance to eat.
So Jesus says, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Jesus knows that the disciples had been working very hard and were exhausted. Jesus knew that they needed some physical and emotional rest. So they get in a boat and cross the Sea of Galilee to get away from the crowds. Imagine the relief they must have felt after they got into the boat: “Finally a break from all those people! Finally, we get to eat!”
The new life comes into being only by letting God work. Therefore, Luther can cheerfully and trustfully step down from the pulpit; he doesn’t need to go on incessantly crying, shouting and roaring about the country. He can quietly drink his little glass of Wittenburg beer and trust in God. The Lord ‘gives to his beloved sleep.’
Yes, we are busy and there is so much to do, but there is a place for rest for us as well and Jesus shows that by his beautiful invitation to come away and rest.
II. However, in verses 33-37 we see that human needs interrupt the rest.
As Jesus and the disciples are going across the lake, the people went around the lake and were waiting for Jesus and the disciples on the other side. You can imagine how the disciples must have felt when they saw this: “Oh, no! Look! They have followed us! Aren’t we ever going to get a break?” We feel like the disciples at times when we have so many demands placed on us. “I just want to be able to get away for a little while, but my work or my problems or those with problems keep on following me.”
But when Jesus sees the crowd, he sees them as being like sheep without a shepherd. There are few animals that are as dependent on people as sheep. They are totally reliant on a shepherd to feed and to protect them. That is what these people looked like to Jesus: poor people who had no idea how to take care of themselves and so he has compassion on them. This also fulfills an Old Testament theme from Numbers 27:17 and Ezekiel 34:5God will send one to help the people who are like sheep without a shepherd. In Numbers the shepherd was Joshua who would lead the people to rest. In Asexual, the shepherd is God himself who will bring the new covenant. Mark here proclaims Jesus to be the ultimate shepherd who will lead the people.
So Jesus begins to teach the people. Why teach people when they are sick or hurting? Because often one of a person’s greatest needs is the lack of any meaning or purpose in their lives. And the greatest need is the spiritual need to be at peace with God. Jesus Christ and his kingdom provide meaning and purpose in our lives. People may have many physical needs in their lives but if those needs are met and their spiritual need is ignored, they are still miserable. People need the gospel of Christ in order to have meaningful life.
When my husband and I recently traveled to Rwanda and Burundi, we were prepared to enter a war-torn place where people were still recovering from the effects of violence and poverty. Instead, we found lush green fields, breathtaking Lake Tanganyika and, most of all, a gracious, vibrant people eager to serve as ambassadors of their countries and their Christian faith. How had this extraordinary transformation taken place? The Bible Societies in both countries spoke of Christ as the Prince of Peace, the physician who was bringing new health to their land. People talked about a spiritual revival. The unexplainable power of God’s grace has given these nations the strength to engage in the difficult and painful work of forgiveness and rebuilding. In a world that so desperately needs to experience the transforming love of Christ, the people of Rwanda and Burundi were our teachers.
Jesus teaches these people about God and thereby gives them what they need above all.
But now it is almost supper time and these people are getting hungry. You can picture the disciples looking at the setting sun and thinking now maybe these people will go home to eat so we can get some rest. So they tell Jesus to send the crowds into the surrounding areas so that they can have food because they clearly cannot provide food for all those people. The problem they see now is one they believe they can clearly do nothing about.
But notice what Jesus commands them to do: “You give them something to eat.” The disciples protest to Jesus: “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Jesus, be serious! We don’t have anywhere near that much money.” It would be like Jesus telling our small church this morning to: Feed all the millions of people who are hungry and starving. Provide shelter for all the homeless in our country. Get government officials to work together for the common good of all people. We would likely respond as the disciples did. “We can’t do it! We don’t have enough money, resources or time!” We can come up with a whole list of reasons why we can’t do anything. The problem is that these reasons just don’t hold for Jesus.
III. Let’s look at Jesus’ active compassion.
Jesus takes action, but notice that he includes the disciples in his action. First, he tells them to see how many loaves they have. Why does Jesus do this? First, he wants them to realize what they already have. While they may not have much, they do have something. Second, Jesus wants the disciples to realize that they can’t do it on their own. Based on their limited resources they need his help. Finally, Jesus wanted them to realize that they could still do something with the little they had.
Then Jesus tests the disciples’ faith by telling them to have the people sit in groups. Imagine telling people to sit down, creating an atmosphere that says food is coming; however, you know that all you have is five loaves and two fish. What faith this must have taken! Finally, Jesus has them pass out the bread and fish. Jesus has them fully involved in this miracle so that they know that they can in fact do something.
Then Jesus takes it from there and turns this small amount of food into a bountiful meal for all the people. Now realize that only the disciples knew the magnitude of what Jesus was doing. As the food was being passed out, the people may have thought that Galilean Catering must have been summoned and brought enough food for everyone. But Jesus was concerned only with teaching the disciples how to respond to the needs around them using his powerful help. Mark, however, makes sure his readers know the magnitude of this miracle. Everyone had plenty to eat; in fact, there were even leftovers; twelve baskets full. And there were 5,000 people there not counting women and children.
Why had Jesus done this truly amazing thing? He felt compassion for these people and wanted to help them in their need. Jesus also wanted to show the disciples that they could do great things with his power. And that is what we can learn from this as well. Jesus can take what little we have and do great things with it through us.
IV. What is our response to the overwhelming needs in the world?
We are living in a time where there are so many people moving around in the world in order to escape oppressive governments, wars and poverty; the needs in the world are immense! Current statistics show that approximately 21,000 people die every day from malnutrition and related diseases and the majority of those are children. Recent studies have shown that there were about 565,000 homeless people in the United States; 2,154 here in Nashville in 2015.
And then there are so many other major hurts and needs that exist around us. There are conflicts between ethnic groups that is centuries old. There is selfishness and greed on the part of many in western nations. There are deep divisions in our nation and between Christians. And these needs seem so far beyond our ability to do anything. How can we provide for the homeless when we have trouble making ends meet? How can we stop injustice or oppression that brings about war? How can we bridge divides that seem so deep and hard? The problems are very great and there seems to be little that we can do.
But we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus calls us to do something. Jesus told the disciples: “You give them something to eat!” Knowing it was an overwhelming task he wants them to do something anyway. Jesus tells us as well, “Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, help the oppressed.” He knows how overwhelming this is, but he still calls us to help.
So how can we do this? Let’s follow what Jesus says here. Jesus asks us first, “What do you have? That helps us to realize that we have much more than we thought we had.
Jesus then tells us, “Use what you have even if it may not be much at all.” Certainly the boy with the 5 loaves and 2 fish didn’t have much. But he gave what he had and Jesus multiplied it greatly.
Finally, let’s give what small amount we may have, and watch how God will bless it! God can take the little we give to the families in Tusculum and make it do far more than what we can imagine. We do that by living on a little less and being aware of the needs in the world. Are we willing to give up a little to help those with overwhelming needs?