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Monday, May 15, 2017

You Want Me to do What?

We all know the story. It's pretty famous. Jesus fed five thousand. And four thousand. He seemed to do that kind of thing. But I wonder if we miss some of the details that, to me, are critical.

In Mark 6 we get Mark's version of the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44). Jesus and His disciples were trying to have a weekend retreat (or something like it), but the crowds followed them and when they came to shore they were waiting for them. Jesus "had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." (Mark 6:34) So He taught them until it was late. His disciples came up out of compassion as well and told Jesus, "They're hungry and this is no place to get food, so send them away to get something to eat." (Mark 6:35-36) Look at Jesus's response. "You give them something to eat." (Mark 6:37)

Think about that for a moment. We're looking at 5,000 men (not including women and children) (Mark 6:44; cp Matt 14:21). That's a large crowd. Jesus's instruction is "You give them something to eat"?? With what? They told Jesus it would take 200 denarii. Now a denarius was the equivalent of a day's pay in their time. On a five-day work-week that would be 40 weeks of your pay. That's more than a three quarters of a year's wages. And Jesus said, "You feed them." Clearly they're thinking, "We can't!" It would appear, then, that Jesus commanded the impossible.

Now I've heard it said that God never commands us to do what we cannot. He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) and the assumption is that all men everywhere can repent, but it isn't necessarily true. We are commanded to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1), to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength (Mark 12:30), to be holy (I Peter 1:16), to be perfect (Matt 5:48) ... just a select few, but enough to illustrate that God does command the impossible. Now what?

Without missing a beat, Jesus asked, "What do you have?" (Mark 6:38) Five loaves and two fishes. That ought to do it ... not. But that's what they had. And Jesus proceeded to tell them to ... give the people something to eat. He had the crowd sit down for a meal and He blessed the food and He had the disciples pass it out until everyone was fed and satisfied with 12 baskets left over (Mark 6:42-43). Now, I don't know how big those baskets were, but I can tell you that the original five loaves and two fishes didn't occupy 12 baskets. They ended up with more than they started with after giving away all that food.

We are told the same thing. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength." "Um," we say (if we're honest), "I don't have the resources to do that." And He says, "Give me what you do have and I'll provide what you need." "Love your neighbor as yourself," we are commanded and, again, we say, "I am not able." And He says, "Give me what you do have and I'll provide what you need." "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," we are told. "Really? How am I supposed to do that? I can't work out my salvation." "Just do it, for it is God who is at work in you to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13).

It's the same thing. We are told to do what is not possible to do by our own resources. We might point out that we can't. We don't have the skills, the money, the time, the talent, the know-how, whatever it takes. "What do you have?" When we give to Him what we have, He is able to multiply it. And we are able to do what He says.

Who fed the 5,000? Jesus provided; His disciples handed it out. They got to participate in God's work. Too often we look at our meager five loaves and two fishes and figure we can't do the same. Wouldn't it be better for us to aim for God to work rather than simply expecting our pitiful capabilities to fail us? Participating in God's work could be a marvelous blessing. We don't need to pass that up.

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