Table #3: Where is your faith?

"And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces."

Read Luke 9:10-17.

I imagine you are by yourself somewhere reading today's devotional. There's no one but you, God and the words on this page. So let's get reflective and honest for a moment. It's a safe place to do so. What is causing unbelief in your life at the moment? What is it about the identity of Jesus that you seem to struggle with at times? Perhaps because of a prayer that wasn't answered how you prayed you are struggling with whether God is good or able or loves you. Perhaps you are very intellectual and your intellect tells you that Jesus cannot be God or that He no longer intervenes in the world. Perhaps you have seen God's faithfulness over and over again in the past and instead of it giving you confidence in who God is you think that at some point His goodness is going to run out, that you've used up your quota for answered prayers. Where are you?

The disciples

After studying this passage I'm almost convinced that this feeding story is more for the disciples' faith than for anyone else. Let's back up a minute. Since the calling of the first disciples in chapter 5, we learn that while these men have left everything to follow Jesus and have found forgiveness of sins, they still don't fully grasp the identity of Jesus. In fact if you read Luke all the way through, which we'll see when we look at the last meal scenes, they still don't believe Jesus is who he said he was. If they did, they would have been waiting anxiously outside the tomb for Jesus to appear! (Jesus had told his disciples on at least 3 separate occasions that he would be raised from the dead.) Instead, after Jesus' death they were locked away in an upper room brokenhearted and afraid of the Jerusalem leaders. Where is your faith, disciples?

So prior to our passage, Jesus' disciples had witnessed numerous healing miracles and the raising of a widow's son from death! Then in Luke 8:22-25, Jesus and his disciples were in a boat when a dangerous storm came upon them. They woke up Jesus believing they were going to die. Jesus rebukes the storm; the storm ceases, and Jesus asks, "Where is your faith?"

Now at the beginning of chapter 9, Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission to preach the kingdom of God and heal with a stipulation. "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money." Talk about a HUGE leap of faith! Imagine as an American setting out on a journey with no car, snacks, suitcase or money. It's unthinkable. Jesus wanted them to learn total dependence on God.

Our passage begins with the return of the disciples from this mission. It's safe to assume that the apostles had no problem with their needs being met. In fact, they accomplish the mission that Jesus sent them to do and had experienced the power of God upon them as they preached and healed. Then, as we read, it's not very long after their return that in his attempt to withdraw with them, Jesus and his disciples are surrounded by a huge crowd. Jesus not only welcomes the crowd but does the very thing he sent his disciples to do: preach and heal. And again, the kingdom of God is the content of the message being preached!

{The expression the kingdom of God, from a Greek grammatical perspective, should be understood as God reigns, hence the reign of God. The kingdom of God as seen in Luke was inaugurated with the coming of Jesus Christ.}

Now you would think that after seeing the supernatural over and over again manifested in healings, raising of the dead, provisions, and calming of a storm, that when it came to feeding a multitude of people the disciples would have had no problem trusting Jesus. Instead, the apostles say, "Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place (or, wilderness)." Jesus responds, "You give them something to eat." Peter, John, James, and the rest of you disciples, you just got back telling me about all the miracles you were able to perform, you give them something to eat. Show me your faith. But the disciples again respond, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish -- unless we are to go and buy food for all these people." Their response shows that they still do not get it. You might even begin to wonder, will one more miracle make a difference? And perhaps they're being a little sarcastic in asking Jesus if he wants them to go buy food when, remember, they took no money with them on their recently-returned mission. Again, Where is your faith?

But Jesus doesn't rebuke them or say, "Just forget about it; I'll choose new disciples." His patience is a supernatural one! But before we think we would somehow have done better than the disciples at having faith, Luke gives us a detail that will help us understand the magnitude of the problem. Luke says there are about 5,000 men. Let's put this number into perspective. I grew up for part of my life in a small town in Arkansas called Sheridan. I just checked and the last consensus had the town's population at 4,779. Samford University, where my husband teaches, has around 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students and faculty/staff. Trying to imagine that many people, whether in Sheridan or at Samford, all congregated together at one time and only having 5 loaves and 2 fish is ludicrous. It would take an act of God to feed that many people with that little of food.

And that's what happened. Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread and fish to the people. This sequence -- took, blessed, broke and gave -- was a common practice for Jews. But Luke only includes this detail in three places. I don't think we should try to read too much into it. Rather, I think it is a literary device Luke uses to connect the three stories together. (Put this on the back burner in your mind and we will look at it later.)

Jesus not only multiplies the food, which is reminiscent of God providing manna from heaven in the wilderness, but he multiplies it enough that each disciple would have a basket to pick up of scraps! Can you imagine? Jesus in his kindness didn't want the disciples to miss what had happened. Each one carried a basket of leftovers as a reminder that Jesus is able to do abundantly more than is imagined. Now, Peter, as you hold the basket, Where is your faith?

Further reflections:

1. Whereas the first two table stories we looked at were hosted by other people, this table scene is hosted by Jesus. Instead of a literal table, here we have a conceptual table, much like having a picnic. Whereas the first table scene was a celebration of redemption and hospitality shown by the recipient of grace, this table shows us the provision and hospitality of God toward people. But where there are differences, here is where our three table stories thus far reach the same conclusion. All show that Jesus is divine, the Son of God. In the first two events this is evidenced by the ability of Jesus to forgive sins, and in today's passage it is seen in the power he has over food. We can't miss what Luke is doing here. Right before the feeding miracle, we are told that Herod is perplexed by the identity of Jesus. He has heard rumors that perhaps Jesus is John reincarnated, Elijah or another prophet from old. The question, Who is this Jesus?, is left dangling for us as we move into the feeding miracle. During the feeding miracle, clues such as the word for wilderness, also translated as desolate place, are used to remind us of the Jews in the wilderness in Exodus. Who is the only one who can provide bread to feed a multitude? God! Who provides bread and fish out of basically nothing for a multitude? Jesus! Then following the feeding miracle Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter responds, "The Christ of God." If we walk away from this passage not grasping that Jesus is divine, then we've missed a very big point.

2. Jesus is also fully human. Following a miracle and a confession that claims his deity, Jesus explains what being the Messiah, or the Christ, means. He will suffer. It's the greatest oxymoron that Jesus, who is God, and is the king of the kingdom of God, will also suffer and die. Immediately following Peter's confession Jesus foretells his death and then foretells it again a little while later (see 9:22, 44).

3. What does the identity of Jesus -- that he is fully God and fully man -- have to do with me? How does this information have any influence over my life and how I live? First, Jesus' identity gives us the infrastructure for belief. If I place my faith in Jesus, who is God, then I know he is able to have power in my life. He has power over my sin (first two tables); he has power to heal, to provide, and to protect. And the greatest power? To raise us from the dead. He has power over death and life. If Jesus were anything less than God then I would not have reason to believe. Second, Jesus' identity helps me to trust him during the hard times. I have struggled personally with unanswered prayers, with seeing and experiencing suffering and death, with trials and pain. If Jesus had only been God and not human I would have question whether he loved me. But I follow a person who has experienced suffering and death to the fullest. In Hebrews 4:15 we're told, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." While this verse talks about sin, the same could be said of suffering. We have a Savior who is able to empathize with our suffering, for he, too, suffered and shares in our humanity.

4. If you've been following along you will have noticed that I talk about Jesus -- a lot! I probably do so to the point that you're thinking, "Say something new, Kristen. Jesus is God and his mission is to forgive sins; I get it." But I want to make sure we get it, because if we don't find our identity in Jesus and make our lives all about him then we are building for us a life on shifting sand. There is no power within myself to give me peace, forgiveness, or grace. I don't have the power to heal, to protect, or to not die. But yet when I read a lot of popular bloggers, all I hear bleating off the page is "I, I, I, me, me, me, you, you, you." Pray to make you feel stronger and sit up straighter. Love to make you feel better. Use your gifts to make you feel empowered. Be who God has called you to be so that you will find fulfillment. (Excuse my little rant, but...) I'm sick of this, y'all! These words tickle our ears and make us feel better...for a moment...but if it doesn't have to do with Jesus (and I'm talking about the Jesus of Scripture) then it's rubbish. It's trash. Don't believe it; stop reading it. Within the larger context of our third table scene, Jesus tells his disciples if you want to follow him and be part of his kingdom then here's what you must do. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (9:23). If you want to follow Christ then you must deny yourself and take up a cross? "That doesn't sound very American! That doesn't jive with my wealth and health gospel that I have begun to believe." No, because that stuff being preached is not the gospel; it's not what Jesus of Scripture said. Following him is hard; suffering and death may come by following Him. Whether or not we suffer and die for the name of Jesus, as followers of him we take that risk. We do so knowing that the road won't be easy and that there will probably be suffering along the way. But with suffering, my friends, also comes future glory. 

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians 3:3

Table #2: The uninvited guest

Table #1: Dining with sinners

Come and Dine