Most of us have read or heard the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, it is in all four of the gospels, and some of us know that there is also a part where Jesus fed four thousand. As I was reading the story about the feeding of the four thousand in Matthew 15:28-39 (You can also find it in Mark 8:1-13) I was struck by a phrase. In the ESV (English Standard Version) verse 32 reads:
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
The phrase, “I am unwilling to” struck me. The NIV (New International Version) as well as others will say “I do not want to.” When you think of a God who is unwilling, what do you think? It is probably a negative thing. God is unwilling to answer my prayers. God is unwilling to help me. Maybe those things have more to do with us. Remember in Mark 6 where the scripture talks about Jesus being rejected in his hometown, Nazareth. Mark 6:1-6 says:
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
He could not do any miracles there, or let me write it another way, he was unable to do any miracles there. Why? Their lack of faith. Matthew 13:58, same story about Jesus being rejected, says “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” What if my unbelief has something to do with God not working in my life?
Or let me remind you of the time when Lazarus died and people were saying: “‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37) Christ didn’t in the moment do what the people thought he could, so faith was there, but God had larger plans. What the people wanted was less than what God wanted to show and give. There was a plan, a purpose that accomplished more and greater than what they thought could/should be done. What if God’s plan, his desire to not let us have isn’t about him being unable, or us not believing, but God knowing something better, a better way, a better time, a better ending, is what is needed.
Back to the feeding of the four thousand. We don’t’ come to a God who is unable in His own self, but to a God who is unwilling. I know that sounds wrong so let me explain. Unwilling in the sense that God doesn’t want to let us leave without giving us what we need for the journey. This should be an attribute of God that we cling to. This unwillingness to not provide when we stay. This unwillingness to send us out on our own, knowing that without what He provides we will fail, fall, and using the word from scripture, “faint.” It is Jesus’ compassion, Jesus’ heart that breaks that brings about this unwillingness. O how He loves you and me.
It is interesting to think about the crowd. I wonder if some of the crowd left before Jesus broke the bread and fish. I wonder if some of them started to get hungry and left to go and find food. Maybe they thought like the disciples that this is a remote place and if I’m going to eat soon I better get a move on. They may have found a meal somewhere else, but they missed out on a heavenly banquet. They might have enjoyed some choice food, but never gotten to engage with a God of abundance that brought so much that there were leftovers. (Why were there leftovers? – That is for another day). Do we know this unwilling God?
Because of Him,
Rev. Lynn Beach is married to his college sweetheart, Michelle, and they have two adorable daughters. He has been at Park Church since July 2013.