“When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:13-14 KJV)
Why were these people there? It says that they followed Jesus out of the cities. Why so many leaving the cities? Was Jesus not coming back to the cities? Why would they be so willing to roam a distance great enough to separate themselves from basic supplies that the cities can provide; like food? There was a great tragedy in the city. John had been killed. Not a public death like that of a traitor or in a violent way that may have been done by Herod’s father, but as a result of the opportunity taken by a very hateful woman. The man so many had been baptized by and had learned from and whom many had hoped some way of release could be arranged at last now realized their hopes to be tragically disappointed. This combined with the news that a healer was available sets the stage for a significant exodus from the cities. So, Jesus sees them and has compassion on them and heals the sick among them. Jumping to the end of this miracle in verse 22, Jesus does something interesting. “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.” (Matthew 14:22 KJV) He sends His disciples straightaway, immediately, or at once to clear out? What is the danger in staying a while or even allowing some of them to come along? Something is important enough that Jesus personally dismisses the crowd. One of the tragic realities of many dictatorial rulers is that they cruelly maintain a yoke over their people by keeping a tight control on the food supply. Several African countries have the problem of such ruthless dictators in charge even today. Jesus did the most dangerous thing He could have done. He feed them. Not just spiritually, but physically. Had the people been given time to stay and follow along with Jesus, they would have a leader who did not rely on the current rulers for a food supply. An instant food supply for an entire army was right there. I can imagine the disappointment that may have been felt in the hearts of so many as they were dismissed. They finally escape the injustice of the city, they are healed from their sicknesses, and there is someone with a physical food supply that does not rely on Rome or any other Earthly power and they are sent back! Have you ever felt like God has provided a way out of a situation and then He tells you to return? Maybe to return to tell others in that same situation of God’s compassion? To show them how He has healed you? To remind you that you must be faithful even in a really tough situation and His time to remove you from that situation has not yet come?
The other big question I have for one of the disciples who participated in the distribution of the food that day is how did Jesus feed so many people? An obvious answer may be trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of how the miracle happened. The practical answer is that Jesus gave me a piece of food and told me to give it to someone in the crowd. I did and came back for another. He gave me another and I gave it to another person in the crowd. I came back for another and He gave me another for yet another person in the crowd. When it was over, I looked around to see the wonder of what He had done. Is that not how we distribute the blessings God gives us even today? God gives us a small piece of something to distribute, we distribute it, we come back for another, He gives us another, and before long we turn around and see the wonder of what He is doing. Notice the wonder is not only accomplished by God’s great power, but by our willingness to take one small piece at a time and faithfully distribute it.
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38 KJV)