Responding Generously

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A story repeated in all four gospels is the feeding of the five thousand or, more precisely, the feeding of probably twenty thousand if you include the women and children. But it is what leads up to this miracle of the “loaves and fishes,” as it is often called, that captures my attention this morning.

The followers of Jesus had just returned from their mission trips throughout the region. They reported to the Lord what they had said and done in His Name. Mark records this: “…because so many people were coming and going that they did not have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31).

So the twelve plus Jesus set sail across the lake. Meanwhile those who noticed them going took the land route and got to the place before the disciples landed. Instead of finding the solitude that they needed after such a demanding schedule, they found a huge crowd waiting to hear from Jesus and to see His miracles.

“Office hours are from nine-to-five. Come back tomorrow.”

“I am out of the office until Monday.”

“Four weeks vacation—and don’t call my cell!”

I’d be tempted. Very few believe me when I tell them that I am not a people-person though I have spent most of my working life in people ministries. The presence of others actually pumps some people up. Some of us are drained by those same encounters. There are times when one more person, one more phone call, one more email, is one too many.

So I was impressed no, amazed, at what Jesus did.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34).

And this was no mere 10-minute devotional. He stayed with them all day. While the ten minutes might have been me at my most compassionate (while inside I’m screaming, “please go away!) Jesus is putting aside His weariness and taking the opportunity to minister to those who have come to hear and see Him. Even when the evening was coming and He had an excuse to send them off because it was dinner time and the food committee had not been put into motion to help out at this “church” supper, He did not send them away.

He did not dismiss them until He had told them everything He needed to say and until He had met their physical needs as well.

When I was in ministry in Colombia we used to make sure that we always had extra food on hand “just in case.” There was a lot of drop-in traffic during those years—people popping in to visit. Sometimes they even arrived at breakfast time. We never knew when, who, or how many. We had to be up, dressed, minds and hearts engaged, and aprons on pretty much all the time. I suspect that the manse, or parsonage, beside the church for the pastor and his family to live in, went the way of the Dodo bird partly because 24/7 duty was, and is, tough.

When we look at the life of Jesus and consider the demands He made on Himself and on His followers, we realize that the task He calls us to is not always an easy one. It is not always convenient. It is not always neat. It is not always perfect or profitable.

We are asked to model our lives after Him. He did take time to “recharge”—in fact, right after He dismissed this particular group, He went off by Himself to pray (6:46). But He never responded cheaply to genuine need or to divine encounters. As His followers, we can only ask for hearts so attuned to both of those—genuine need and divine encounters—that we put ourselves aside and with His same compassion, give generously to look after those He sends to cross our paths.

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