Matt Joldersma, Minister of Youth, First Presbyterian Church of Lake Wales, FL
There was a problem. It came on slowly like a heavy storm front. Most of them weren’t aware of it because their minds we occupied elsewhere. There were five thousand of them that day. Five thousand men, at least. If one or two among them noticed a rumble, it didn’t seem all that severe and it was quickly dismissed, pushed away: no problem.
Who could blame them, really? They were, after all, listening to God speak. Literally. There outside Bethsaida. Not much else really seems like a priority when God speaks like that. Even our major priorities become minor then. They should.
However, stomachs are known mark time obstinately.
Twelve of the five thousand men were Jesus’ own disciples. Of all the hunger rumbles in Jesus’ audience that day the disciples’ ears may have been more keen to their own. The crowd was feeding on Jesus’ words. The disciples had heard Jesus speak before. This may be why their stomachs thundered louder in that moment than God did. There was a problem. The disciples were hungry.
Concerned about their fellow men, for the moment deaf to their own hunger, the disciples represented the people (including themselves, conveniently) to Jesus in an efficient and businesslike manner.
“Jesus, there’s a problem,” they say succinctly, “First, the people are hungry. Second, it’s getting late.” Proposing a solution they continue, “Send the people away.”
In other words, dismiss them, push them away: no problem. If we push them away the problem will go away too. Do it kindly, of course. Patiently, benignly, whatever it takes. Just get rid of them, Jesus. Please. It’s simple, isn’t it? You’re welcome.
Jesus declines their solution responding in his characteristically enigmatic way, “You give them something to eat.”
Is Jesus teasing? Does Jesus tease? And if so, would he tease about hungry people? We only have five loaves and two fish! It’s nothing. Not so fast.
Jesus’ gentle command, “you give them something to eat,” is a command to trust him. Completely. And thereby to obey him. To work with him. He’s about God’s will being done on earth, after all. And it’s how he taught us to pray. Did we think we wouldn’t be conscripted for service? Obey Jesus and people live.
Today you and I see a problem. A big one. People are hungry. Of all people, God’s people must see it. Even if we don’t want to. Even if we want to push it away, concluding: no problem.
This is what the 30 Hour Famine is about. It is about making sure we don’t push away those with empty, thundering tummies and conclude: no problem, as Jesus’ disciples were tempted to. Jesus’ command to us is the same as it is to them, “You give them something to eat.” Trust me. Obey me. With very little. With everything. As Jesus’ followers, by our obedience we intentionally keep the problem in front of us – in this case, by fasting together for 30 hours.
Taking Jesus at his word takes his well-fed, his wealthy, his healthy followers into the midst of the hungry, the poor, the sick. The rumblings are incessant and frighteningly loud. But like his disciples that day outside of Bethsaida, Jesus teaches us to trust and obey – and never to write him out of the equation. When we trust and obey, God’s will is done on earth . . . this is not a problem.