Jesus was having a very bad day. After spending almost three years with this rag tag group of men, in a matter of moments, they revealed to him they still had no idea what He was about. All the miracles they’d witnessed, the sermons they heard him preach, all the late-night chats on the road, had seemingly gone in one ear and other the other.
This should have been a moment of celebration, of great heights, of things finally coming together! He sent them out with all power and authority to free people from demons and cure people of illnesses that plagued them. The men came back on a high, wanting to tell Jesus about all they did because He empowered them to do it. (Our gifts always come from God and can be taken back just as easily. When we start to think we have anything to do with or we own what God has given us, that is when it all starts to go wonky and can disappear).
Jesus wanted to have a time away to reflect, a moment with just them. But a crowd came (10,000+ according to some estimates) and that was impossible. So, Jesus fed this crowd. From the lowly offering of five loaves and two fishes, not enough to even feed the 12 disciples, Jesus fed the masses who came to hear what He had to say.
But it wasn’t that easy. No, not really.
The disciples saw the setting sun and told Jesus to dismiss the people so they could find food to eat. Jesus looks at them and simply says, “You feed them.”
I can imagine one of the disciples starting a sentence and then falling silence. They stumble over what to say. One of them finally gets the nerve to say, “Lord, all we have are these loaves and fishes. Do you mean for us to go buy the people food?”
What did these men just come back from doing? By His power and authority, they were able to release people from demons and heal them. After all they did and were able to accomplish, they cannot fathom how they will feed the crowd before them?
They just came off their mountain top, getting to experience first-hand the awesome power and healing might of what God can do, and yet have tumbled into the valley of doubt and relying on what they can see (they will be here for a while by the way).
Did Jesus sigh? I’m sure He wanted to. Instead, He tells the men to organize the mass into groups of fifty. One commentator suggests this was to create a banquet atmosphere where people ate together. It cultivated community. Jesus is all about community. He is all about longer tables and eating together and breaking down barriers. So, of course, He would tell his men not to organize the people by family units but by groups, inviting the people there to get to know each other and built community.
Jesus takes their meager meal and blesses it to God, thanking God for giving them even this humblest of offerings, and then he breaks the bread and feeds the people.
In the end the disciples collect 12 lunch box sized leftovers, one for each of them.
We miss this tiny detail to our determent. Jesus meant to let the disciples retreat and recover from their time away. Those plans got derailed and yet he still manages to care for the men with him. There are just enough leftovers to give each of them a good meal.
The next event should have solidified who Jesus was to these men. He asks them: Who do you say I am? A key question for any of us who claim to follow Him. A good question for anyone, actually.
Peter (good ol’ Peter) answers: You are God’s Messiah.
Twice is Luke 9 Jesus tells His disciples He is going to die. Twice in the matter of a few weeks, He reminds them of the upside-down kingdom they are now a part of. One not based on power or influence but self-sacrifice and others-focused. Jesus not only tells them what will happen (He will die and rise again on the third day) but who will kill Him (the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law). Both times the disciples miss the significance of the moment. Until the resurrection they completely forget what Jesus has told them.
Jesus then takes three of the men with Him for an important meeting on the mountain. At the end of this incredible encounter, God comes down as a cloud and says, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Peter, John, and James have encountered the presence of the Lord much like Moses and Elijah (who were also at this meeting), and Abraham did in the Old Testament.
We would hope if we were surrounded in a cloud and heard an audible voice, we would sear that moment into our brains and come back different people. But it appears those disciples did not. Coming off the mountain they encounter nine very jealous men. Jesus is approached by a father whose child is possessed by a demon. The man says, “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
Jesus responds in frustration. “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this?” (MSG)
He says this to His disciples. Again, remember how we started this chapter: Jesus sent these same men out with the power and authority to do what they just failed at doing. He empowered them to heal this child and yet they got lost in their pride, bickering, jealously, etc. and forgot everything Jesus bestowed on them.
To make it worse, they start arguing about who is the “greatest.” They totally missed Jesus providing for them while feeding the masses. They forgot the power that Jesus gave them to do great things by His power. Instead, the disciples try to create an exclusive club around Jesus by rebuking someone who is not part of their group for casting out demons! Two of the three men on the mountain offer to reign fire down on a town for not letting Jesus rest there. Their level of arrogance, pride, and totally missing everything Jesus has been trying to teach them reaches a breaking point.
I imagine Jesus wanting to turn around and ask, “Do you get this it at all? Do you understand anything I have said in the last three years? Good Lord, do not make me turn this caravan around and go find other men on the seashore. Are – you – kidding – me?!?!?!”
Instead, Jesus finds a child. He brings the child to Him and says, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
To paraphrase: Forget your want of status. Forget your bickering over who is the best. Lay down your pride and arrogance! You hate each other. Despise others who do what you cannot and threaten people you don’t like over the slightest insult. Stop. Simply stop.
Matthew 25 stands to further this idea of “the least among you.”
‘I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room. I was shivering and you gave me clothes. I was sick and you stopped to visit. I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (MSG)
Everyone matters to Jesus. Stop trying to be important, popular, the best, the most, wealthy, influential. Stop turning faith into an “in crowd.” Stop being exclusive! Instead focus on the least of these. Focus on welcoming the child. Look at those the world overlooks and welcome them in. That is what we are told to do. This is what it means to follow and love the Lord. This. Simply this.
We still struggle with this today. The American Church is lost in this sin. They are too much like the disciples in this moment trying to stop people who aren’t part of their crowd, deciding who is and is not worthy, forgetting their plank of judgment and hatred while rebuking others for treating them the same way.
Every person is made in the image of God and that fact alone makes them worthy of respect. All people are created by God and therefore are equal before His eyes. There is no hierarchy here. He does not love white people more. God is not America first. He does not value blind nationalism over a call to love the least of these. God never asked for a country club religion. He never asked for a Christian nation. God via Jesus asked us to love one another and care for the least of these. And Jesus tells us that is what we will be judged by.
In His rebuke Jesus is telling His disciples to stop being selective and striving for power/influence/position/fame and to start loving others and being humble.
IVP puts it this way: Disciples are to affirm the greatness of all persons; they all have dignity, even those who need to get right with God and deal honestly with sin. Every sinner deserves some respect. No persons are so low on the ladder that they are beyond the reach of divine compassion.
There is a pervasive lie (sin) in the American Church today, especially the Christian right, that in order for someone else to gain someone has to lose. That for us to affirm black lives matter, or immigrants have a place here too, or we need to give people unhindered access to vote, health care, a livable wage, etc., that means someone (them?) has to lose. But that is a lie. And that sort of zero-sum scarcity mindset leaves us all with less and mired in sin.
Jesus says greatness is found in humility.
Let me say that again: Jesus says greatness is found in humility.
We can all have greatness equally. We can all move the sticks forward together without any being left behind.
But we have to lay down our need for power, position, our pride, our fear, our hoarding of what God promises to provide and instead welcome those we are so desperate to overlook and push aside.
Jesus is telling the disciples (and us) to pull our eyes up. Stop looking at what is before you. Stop looking at what is around you. Stop putting imaginary giants in the scenario via a lack of resources, favoritism, jealously, someone “winning” over you, imagining the worse, puffery over the slightest insult. Stop. Simply stop. None of those things matter. None – of – those – things – matter.
We are back on the banks of the Jordon with the majority saying the land is full of giants and others saying, “but if He is with us, we will be okay.” It’s time we stop fighting what is not there and get back to the longer table Jesus modeled at the start of Luke 9.
The disciples could not see beyond what was before them. They went on this incredible mission and healed people, told them about Jesus, got a taste for what would come via the Holy Spirit, and instead of letting it change their lives they hardened their hearts and made it all about who was “worthy” and who was not. And they found lack even within their ranks, those Jesus called to walk with Him.
From this point Jesus’ path is set towards His death. Every step leads Him closer and closer to what He has tried to warn the disciples about. I cannot imagine His anguish. He knows what is coming. He has told the men closest to Him what is about to happen, and they are squabbling over who will sit beside Him in a kingdom established on the complete opposite of everything He ever said matters.
Let us stop making the same mistake.