Imagine you’re one of the crowd on that day described in Matthew. You know who Jesus is, of course; you don’t know everything about him, but you know a lot of things. He’s pretty famous, after all, this Jesus. He’s done a lot of things. He’s preached a lot of sermons, and there’s a lot of difference of opinion about him. The people who are for him say he’s the Savior, the King who was promised by scripture. They even say he has the power to forgive sins. The people in charge, though, the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the scribes, all say he’s a dangerous man and needs to be stopped. The Roman authorities say that, too, although that does not mean much to you—after all, who trusts them?
You’ve heard some other things, too, some stories. Supposedly, he’s got some sort of special power to heal people. You’ve even heard a story about him having raised someone from the dead, although you’re not real sure about that one. That’s not possible, is it?
At any rate, he’s in the area, and there are a lot of people going out to see him, so you decide you’re going to go out there, too. If nothing else, this guy’s a celebrity, so it should be interesting to go see him.
Apparently, he’s out on a boat somewhere. The word is that his famous cousin, John the Baptist, was killed, and Jesus decided he wanted to get away for a while. You think, well, maybe we should just leave him alone, then. No one else seems to think so, though. There’s a pretty big crowd gathered, and they seem to know where Jesus was headed, and they’re going to follow him. So, you figure you might as well follow him, too. After all, one person more or less is not going to make any difference.
You see that a lot of these people have brought sick people along with them, relatives or friends. They must have heard those stories about Jesus healing people, too. You keep moving with the crowd, keep going, and eventually there he is! There’s Jesus, big as life, still in the boat, but not very far from shore
Jesus turns and sees the crowd. Well, how could he not, really. People are calling to him, wanting him to come and provide healing. It’s interesting, the different ways they ask. Some of them don’t ask. They demand. They act like Jesus has some sort of obligation to heal them, like he owes it to them or something. Others, though, are more polite, asking calmly. Some of them are begging. You can see that they’re desperate. They look like they’ve been sick a long time, and that there’s nothing any other doctor can do for them. Jesus is probably their last chance.
Now Jesus is bringing the boat to shore. He gets out of the boat and looks at the crowd. You can see in his face that he feels for those people. So, he starts healing them. At first, the scene seems chaotic, totally disorganized, and yet, Jesus does not seem at all rattled or bothered by it. In fact, he seems to be in total control. There’s no visible organization to anything, yet everything seems to make sense. Somehow, it all seems to be going just like it’s supposed to go.
Jesus continues to heal people. It’s an amazing thing to see. When you heard these stories of healing, you thought it was probably some big, theatrical production. You expected to see flashes of light, puffs of smoke, maybe even hear a loud, almost unearthly voice or something. There’s none of that. Jesus simply talks to people. You cannot quite hear what he’s saying, but he seems to be quite calm. As he talks to them, the people who’ve come to him calm down, too. There are a lot of people in front of you, so you really cannot see what happens next, but all of a sudden, the person is healed. Whatever was wrong with them is gone. It’s more than a cure; it’s like they were never sick in the first place. They instantly seem to be totally healed, perfectly normal. Then, Jesus goes on to the next person, and the same thing happens, over and over again. It’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen. This Jesus guy is better than a doctor.
Then, all at once, you do hear a loud, almost unearthly noise. You look around, and then you realize it’s coming from your stomach. You look up, and you notice the sun is getting pretty low in the sky. It’s getting late, and you’ve not eaten since breakfast. You realize that you’re getting pretty hungry. You also realize that you did not think to bring any food with you, and this place you’re in is pretty desolate. It’s a long way home, and it’s also a long way to any town. You ask around, thinking maybe you can buy some food from someone else, but no one else seems to have thought to bring any food with them, either.
You’re not the only one who’s starting to get hungry. You hear some murmuring through the crowd. Even the people who’ve been healed are starting to get a little upset. No one has the guts to actually talk to Jesus about it, but they talk to a few of his friends, asking them to relay the message. Sure enough, a little while later, you see Jesus’ friends talking to him. You don’t really hear what they’re saying, but you know it’s got to be about the food situation. Then, the crowd suddenly quiets down, and you hear Jesus tell his friends, “You give them something to eat.”
You think, just for a minute, that maybe his friends have brought a bunch of food with them, but the looks on their faces tell you that’s not true. They obviously have no idea what Jesus is talking about. They don’t have any food to give anyone. They huddle for a minute, then scatter. Are they going somewhere to get some food? But where would they go? Are they just leaving, taking off so they don’t have to deal with the situation? No one knows. The crowd is getting restless, and so are you. Meanwhile, Jesus just sits there calmly, as if he’s completely unaffected by what’s going on.
His friends come back, and one of them is holding a basket. It looks like it has a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Whoop ti do. That’s not even going to be enough to feed Jesus and his friends, much less this huge crowd. People are starting to get upset.
Jesus takes the food, and he tells everyone to sit down. Surprisingly, they do. You do, too. Jesus says grace. What’s going on? They’re not all going to eat while we just sit here and watch are they? That does not make sense, but no one seems to be able to make any sense out of what’s going on.
Jesus breaks the bread into pieces and tells his friends to start passing the pieces out to the crowd. There’ll never be enough, of course, but at least a few people will get to eat something. You start pushing your way to the front, trying to be one of those few, but everyone else has the same idea. You give up, knowing you’ll never be able to get anything.
You sit down again. Some time passes. It sure is taking a long time for them to hand out that little bit of food. Then, there’s a shadow over you. You look up, and there’s one of Jesus’ friends, holding out some bread. He says, “Do you want something to eat?”
You reach out for it, amazed. How can there still be some bread available? You look around, and everyone has bread. In fact, they have more than they can eat. There seems to be plenty left over. Where’d all this bread come from?
You look at Jesus, and he’s got this big smile on his face. He looks back at you, and you know he knows exactly what you’ve been thinking this whole time. Jesus had planned this out from the beginning! That’s why he had not been worried about anything. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to happen.
You suddenly realize that the stories you’ve heard are true. This Jesus really is who his supporters say he is. He really is the King. He really does have the power to forgive sins. He really is the Savior.
Jesus tells everyone to leave, so everyone gets up to go home. And you know what? That’s where the Bible leaves the story. So, if we’ve really imagined ourselves as part of the crowd that day, each of us is going to have to write what happens next.
What do you do? What do I do? Do we try to stay with Jesus, or do we go back home? If we go back home, what do we do? Has this meeting with Jesus, this realization of who he is, made a difference in your life? Has it made a difference in my life? Or are we going to just go back and go about our business, with a story to tell and a memory to keep, but no more? If we are changed, is it going to be a permanent change, something that makes our lives different from now on, or is it like so many other things, something that gets us excited for a while but that eventually fades away.
We’ve heard the story. The ending is up to each one of us.