Little is Much if God is in It
- Written by Jody Vickery Jody Vickery
- Published: 11 August 2017 11 August 2017
Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. That’s how Matthew (15:29) begins the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000. It happened on a mountain. And immediately we remember how significant that setting is.
A mountain provided a safe landing for Noah’s ark.
The 10 Commandments were dictated on a mountain.
Abraham’s faith was tested on a mountain.
Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal on a mountain.
Isaiah prophesied that many people would gather on the metaphorical mountain of the Lord.
Jesus delivered his famous sermon from a mountain and was transfigured on one.
So here we are again – Jesus is sitting on a mountain. Something important is going to be done or said or both.
Matthew unpacks the demographics of the crowd. It includes the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others who are in need of some kind of healing. Jesus is not just on a mountain – he is confronted with one. A mountain of human need. Their need has made them desperate so, like Himalayan Sherpas, they have hoisted their disabled loved ones onto their shoulders and carried them up the mountain to Jesus.
The trip back down the mountain will go much easier for this crowd. And not just because it’s downhill. With more economy than we might expect, Mathew simply says, He healed them. The newly sighted will see their own way down. The formerly lame will walk off the mountain on their own two legs. The previously crippled will help carry whatever needs to be ported. Amazement turns to praise.
Apparently, though, the crowd is not eager to leave the moment, to descend the mountain. They overstay their supplies and a new problem emerges. Hunger. Jesus says, “I have compassion for these people. I do not want to send them away hungry or they may collapse on the way.”
And here we get to witness an interesting dynamic in the relationship between Jesus and his disciples – one we would do well to duplicate. He has simply expressed a desire: I do not want to send them away hungry. He has not issued a command. He has not given an order. He has merely stated a preference. But his desire hits his disciples with the force of a decree. His mere wish is their command. We know this because of how they react.
They ask, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” They are trying to figure out how to make his wish come true. Which means they are beginning to love him. Because that’s what love does. It does not wait for the command. It listens for the wish.
If Jesus was ever tempted to turn stones to bread this would have been the moment. And he certainly could have. He turned water into wine. Fishermen into fearless apostles. He turned the cross, an instrument of judgement, into a symbol of mercy. He even turned a tomb into a cathedral of praise. Turning stones to bread would have been a piece of cake. But he did not perform a unilateral miracle. He asked a question: How many loaves do you have?
Why? It’s not like Jesus needed their help. Their answer was not going to change the outcome. And the truth is, he probably already knew exactly how many loaves they had in inventory. So why ask?
Maybe he wanted them to recognize their lack of resources. Maybe he wanted them to really come to grips with how inadequate and powerless they were. That’s possible, but they already knew that. Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd? They have embraced their insufficiency.
When he asked, How many loaves do you have, perhaps he wanted to teach them what was possible when overwhelming human need is confronted with God’s power. He was saying, “Whatever you have is enough . . . if God’s power is in it.”
There are echoes of other stories in this one. Thousands of people in a remote location eating food miraculously provided by God sounds a lot like manna in the wilderness.
In 2 Kings 4, the widow of a priest cried out to Elisha for help. The creditors were coming to take her sons away as payment for her debts. Elisha asked her a question very much like the one Jesus asked his disciples: Tell me, what do you have in your house?
A little oil, she said.
Go and ask your neighbors for empty jars, the prophet told her. Don’t ask for a few. Then go inside and pour the oil you have into those empty jars.
When she did, she had enough oil to pay her debts and live comfortably.
It’s a lesson God has been trying to teach us for a long, long time. Whatever you have is enough . . . if God’s power is in it.
What little love you have left for your spouse is enough – if God’s power is in it.
What little respect you have left for your parents is enough – if God’s power is in it.
What little hope you have for your wayward child is enough – if God’s power is in it.
You are deeply troubled by the needs in this community but you have so few resources to meet them. Whatever you have is enough – if God’s power is in it.
When Jesus asked his disciples, How many loaves do you have, he was pulling the mask off all their fears of inadequacy and failure and not being or having enough to meet the overwhelming need that confronted them. He was telling them – telling us – you do not have to be afraid. God is here. And where God is, it is enough.