I wish I was better at seeing the bigger picture. Or maybe, I wish I was simply better at seeing the larger scope of its beauty.
My wife took a trip with her sister to San Francisco, and while there, she had the opportunity to visit Muir Woods. She was amazed at the size and age of the trees there. She showed me pictures of it all, and they were majestic, but all I could see were trees. Maybe my wife has a child-like wonder about these things that I don’t have. I don’t know. My default mode is to see a picture, but it’s not very often that I see the grander scale of what that picture represents. I’m guilty of that in many areas, including what I see and read in scripture.
To be honest, I’m always going to need a little help in that area. Okay, maybe a lot. I just don’t grasp the larger scope of things. Whether it’s because of bad teaching from my past, or looking past the tiny details, I miss a certain phrase or word that makes the moment much more poignant or dramatic. When I finally get it, it makes what’s happening much more personal for me. This time, some friends on a podcast helped me see that.
Matthew 14:13 begins the story of one of the more famous of Jesus’ miracles. He feeds 5,000 with a few loaves and some fish. I’ve read this story too many times to count, and certainly marveled at Jesus’ ability and power to do what he did. Despite that, there is a descriptive word or two I’ve probably read past each time. Desolate is one of those words. I’ve seen it, and read it, but missed it. The disciples said to Jesus, “this is a desolate place, send them away to fend for themselves. Jesus having compassion on them, sat everyone down, took the little food they had, and multiplied it. (my paraphrase).” Satisfied is another word I’ve read but missed. “And they all ate and were satisfied.” He satisfied their needs, and he did it within a desolate place.
Isn’t this what God does? Even as we sometimes complain and push back against him with our own perceived notions of what would satisfy us? In the Old Testament, God, while they were in the wilderness, provided for the Israelites. He provided bread to fall from the sky, animals to come upon them for meat, and water to burst forth from a rock. Now, here is Jesus, taking what little there is, which is nothing in comparison to the crowds, and making it enough to feed everyone. Here is a group of people coming to see him, some beginning to believe he may be the Messiah. They would have understood the similarities.
I must believe this means something important for us. As much as I know how often people take scripture out of context to apply it to themselves, this is about a truth applied to God, not a program applied to us. I have heard people talk about this in relation to the abundance of God, to not just feed the multitudes, which including woman and children, was a number much greater than 5,000, but have an abundance in leftover baskets, as if there were enough for everyone to take home. I’ve heard the teaching imply that God will take care of you over and above what you physically need. A friend, while reviewing this article, reminded me of another similarly poor teaching, that God is waiting to bless you abundantly, if you’re willing to give up the loaves and fish that you’re holding onto in your life. But, I just don’t know if that’s what it’s saying. Before what was left was gathered up, the people were satisfied. They had their fill. The baskets could have been for his disciples to prove that God not only takes care to satisfy the needs of the masses, but those serving the masses.
Let me go back to the word, desolate. I need to go back to it because my faith often feels weak or shaky. For me, it does feel as if I’m regularly moving from one desolate place to another. I am fully aware that I already have the abundance of God in my salvation, by the grace given me through his Son. So, in these desolate places, when I feel weary, alone, and just plain done, he meets my need. He meets it by holding onto me with my weak and shaky faith. He meets my need by reminding me of my worth found in him. He meets my need by his body and blood shed for me and feed to me in communion. He meets my need with grace and mercy.
No one who came out to that desolate place, left with a “new camel and cart”. Some did leave with physical healings, but all, as scripture stated, left satisfied. This is not about getting breaks, or getting ahead. It’s about who sustains you. It’s about who sustains you even as you feel broken and unworthy. What’s true is, even as you’re trying to figure out this faith, Christ is that sustenance for your soul. These aren’t easy words. They may not even be the right words for you. I only pretend most days to know what I’m talking about. I do know this:
People came to a desolate place to meet Jesus. Jesus healed them, and fed them, and they left satisfied.
May I never leave this desolate place.
May Christ always be my satisfaction while there.
A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?