Matt. 15:29 After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, 31 so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Matt. 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” 33 The disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” 34 Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 38 Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.
Just before this passage we have the story of the Canaanite woman who pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter. It’s the passage where she reminds Jesus that even dogs get to eat scraps from the table. All of this seems to be in preparation for Jesus moving his ministry beyond the Jews and to the Gentiles. That’s why this story appears here. It’s not a repetition of the feeding of the 5000 where the crowd was Jewish. This is a different crowd, and specifically it speaks to reaching out to the Gentiles.
These people are needy and they are willing to climb the mountain and in faith bring the sick to Jesus for healing. The result was that they praised the God of Israel. This was an evangelistic moment as the good news of God reached over to the Gentiles of the land.
Just as we saw the feeding of the 5000 as a foretaste of the final Messianic banquet, then we realize that the Gentiles will also be included at the table. This story is here as a witness to Jesus’ intentional ministry to all who were in need.
The Gospel writer wanted us to know that Jesus had intentionally gone to the region of the Gentiles to continue his ministry. This is in quite contrast to the preceding story where he seems to be reluctant, but it may actually be part of the intentionality. Little by little the story continues to expand and reach out to more people and Jesus’ ministry becomes a pattern for us as we follow him.
Jesus didn’t just leave his life and ministry to fate or circumstances, but he was intentional about what he did and the message that it would send. Those messages had to not only communicate in his time, but for all of time. It is in this way that the pictures that are conveyed become timeless.
The picture of reaching out intentionally to those in need is very clear. Jesus goes to the region of the Gentiles and word of his healing spreads. We are to follow him to the region of need. This means that we are called to the places where the religious officials may have felt rather uncomfortable. It is in this place that Jesus began first by meeting their physical needs. Only after he had met those needs were they willing and/or able to listen to his preaching.
If I follow Jesus into the neediest places of this world I need to be prepared to meet physical and emotional needs. We have resources that can meet the simplest of needs at our disposal. I think of the medical teams who would come to visit us in Russia. In those early days we would go to small villages that had had no medical care for a number of years. Those little red Ibuprofen pills were seen as absolute miracles. Just imagine being elderly and having no medication for the arthritis that is causing you pain in your joints on a daily basis and suddenly one little red pill makes you begin to feel better within an hour. Yes, folks, that is a miracle! It’s not a long-term healing, but it makes a difference and when the pain is gone, people are able to listen to your teaching and hear about the love of the true healer!
Taking the time to be intentional about following Christ is required to participate in God’s mission. There are moments when ministry just happens, but there is also the place for planning. Jesus had prepared the disciples when he fed the 5000 so that now they could reach out to the Gentile crowds. That was careful planning — they weren’t as nervous this time around.
The needs surrounding us are great and can seem overwhelming. It will take careful and intentional planning to reach out and to minister, but when God is in it, it can be done.
Lord, thank you for the witness of your work in the world. Please help me to follow you to the places where you would want us to intentionally witness. Amen.
If you would like to read more "Reflecting the Image" click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.