I have probably read or heard this passage a billion times, so it’s always exciting when God gives me a new way of looking at a passage.
Jesus’ disciples had just come back from their mission trip, and were probably exhausted. So after they reported back to Jesus, it says in Mark 6:31,
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
There was probably another reason, however, that Jesus wanted to get away from his disciples and we see it in Matthew.
When Jesus heard [that John the Baptist had been killed], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matthew 14:13)
According to Matthew, another reason Jesus went to be alone was that he had heard that John had been killed. Now part of this withdrawing was probably for his own safety, as Herod apparently was looking for him (Luke 9:9). But why does the passage emphasize “privately?” Why did he only want to be with his disciples?
I think we forget sometimes that though Jesus was fully God, he was also fully human. I don’t know how close Jesus was to John, but they were cousins. It’s possible they had played together as children. John had baptized Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and Jesus had encouraged John at a time when he was in deep depression. So I don’t think Jesus just thought, “Oh, that’s okay. He’ll be with me in heaven soon enough.” I think he wanted some time to mourn for John. Remember too, that at least two of his disciples had once been disciples of John as well (John 1:37). They probably needed time to mourn too.
They didn’t have long to do so, however, because the crowds followed them, and they pressed their needs upon them, not knowing that Jesus and his disciples had needs of their own. Now if it had been me, I might have gotten upset. I might have said, “I’m hurting, get lost!”
Or at the very least, “You know, I want to spend time with you, but could you come back another time. I need some time for myself today.”
But Jesus not only let them come, he welcomed them. (Luke 9:11) Not only did he welcome them, he spent the entire day with them.
Then evening came. His disciples came up to him, and said, “Hey it’s late. Why don’t you send everyone home so they can get something to eat.” And Jesus had the perfect excuse to send thousands of people home. But he didn’t. Instead, he said, “You give them something to eat.”
“But Lord, we can’t possibly meet the needs of all these people.”
“What do you have?”
“We have only a little.”
“Give it to me.”
And Jesus took what they had, blessed it, and multiplied it, not only meeting the needs of the people, but of the disciples themselves. Not only were the disciples satisfied, they had much left over when it was all said and done.
The new thing I got from this passage? Sometimes, we feel like we have little or nothing to give because we’re tired or even hurting. But if God is asking us to do something, not only will he give us enough to meet the needs of others, he’ll give us more than enough to meet our own needs as well.
I suppose the key phrase there is, “If God is asking us to do something…” God does not ask us to meet everyone’s needs. If we try to do that, we will burn out. So the question we need to ask is, “Is God giving me compassion to reach out to these people even though I don’t feel like I have much to give? And is God telling me to reach out to this person? Or am I simply feeling like ‘I have to reach out. It’s my duty.'”
If God is not giving you compassion, if you are not hearing him speak to your heart, you probably need to pass that person to another. But if God gives you the compassion and the word to go, he will take what little you have, bless it, multiply it, and not only meet the needs of the other, but yours as well.