Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. 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, 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.
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.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?’ Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’ Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, 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. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
On Monday we read of Jesus being amazed at the faith of the Roman centurion, today we read of the crowd being amazed. However, there is a difference in these two states of amazement. Jesus was amazed at a simple statement of belief and commitment, the crowds are amazed at the wondrous things they are seeing with their own eyes. This difference is significant because it is rooted in that which is intangible … faith. On Monday we saw Jesus rewarding the faith of the centurion, today we see the crowd offering their approbation almost as though it were a reward for a ‘conjuring trick’ well executed.
Of course, today’s reading does not stop at this point. The crowds have been bringing their sick to Jesus for three days. Throughout that time he has worked many acts of miraculous healing. Then Jesus has compassion for them, acknowledging their need to eat. As with the earlier miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, there are little resources to work with. But, from seven loaves and a few small fish, Jesus provides an abundance that sees seven baskets of broken pieces left over.
I wonder what it must have been like to have been in that crowd of four thousand? They had probably become anaesthetised to the curing of the incurable, having witnessed that for three whole days, but what about the less immediate provision of a meal? How long would it have taken that great crowd to realize what was happening? Did they all come to that realization, or were many content with the fact that food had been provided before they set off on their journey home? When we read these two accounts together we are presented with a challenge to the complacency we often display when Jesus provides for us.
Sometimes we witness an answer to prayer that leaves us speechless. Sometimes we thank God for answering our prayer, and sometimes we speak of our ‘good luck’. On other occasions we experience a gradual understanding of God’s presence in our lives. Again, sometimes we thank God for answering our prayer, and sometimes we speak of our ‘good luck’.
Today we are being invited to reflect upon our response to God’s loving presence in our lives. Do we need a level of empirical evidence before we offer thanks and praise to God, or is our faith stronger than that? Do we only look for God’s presence and power in the big things of life, or are we ready to find God in the simple and the mundane? Are we ready to find that we are constantly fed by God’s love and compassion for us, or are we dead-set on fending for ourselves?