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Faith on the Shelf

“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16)

They were tired. According to Matthew, Jesus had sent them out on their own for the first time. “Take nothing with you,” he said. “Tell them!” “Proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is hand.” “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons.” (Matt. 10:5-10)

It must have been scary. They had watched as Jesus had healed, proclaimed. But this was God’s Son! They had witnessed the miracles, heard his stories and teachings. Could they do these miraculous things? Could they remember what they had been taught? I feel certain that their confidence would be shaken. I know mine would be. Sometimes when we’re unsure. Sometimes when we think that the task is too large, when expectations are too great, when we’re totally exhausted, spent; we lose sight of our faith. We misplace it. We unconsciously put it “over there”, somewhere out of sight. On a shelf.

They must have been hurt! Jesus and his disciples. Mistreated and rejected. He had come home. To Nazareth. He had taught them in their own synagogue, the one he’d grown up in. But they couldn’t get past the earthy stuff. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Aren’t his brothers and sisters here with us every day? How can he know all these things? Do all these things? And so, they rejected him. They took offense. “I’m not buyin’ this,” they said. How that must have stung! To do the work of the Father, Jesus and his close friends must move on. He couldn’t find shalom in his own hometown.

And then there was the bad news. “Jesus, your cousin and dear friend, John the Baptist, has been murdered. Beheaded!” John had spoken out against Herod. Condemned practices that were condemn-able. Spoken God’s truth to those in power and who didn’t want to hear it. Just as Jesus was doing. Just as they were doing. I’m certain that fear set in to these twelve disciples. Sometimes, when fear sets in, or we’re lost, deep in our grief, we lose sight of our faith. We misplace it. Set it “over there”. Somewhere out of sight.

Tired. Rejected. Grieved. No wonder they needed a little getaway time. To be refreshed. To be restored. Matthew calls it a desolate, quiet, uninhabited place. That’s where they were headed.

But the crowd! Not ten. Not a hundred. But thousands. Thousands! They’d heard he was on the move. They could see him and his comrades in the boat. They weren’t aware of how tired and grieved Jesus must have been. They’d heard him teach with authority and wisdom. They’d seen him heal. They wanted more. They wanted to hear more from the master rabboni. They wanted to be touched by the great physician. And so, they poured out, from houses and villages all along the way. They followed. To this place of quiet desolation. And he answered their call.

His eyes of grace saw with compassion. It’s all about grace. The one “who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:6) made himself available to all who needed to hear his voice and feel his touch. He probably just lost track of time. He just kept teaching, healing.

Perhaps it really was because evening was upon them and they were in a “desolate” place (Matt. 14:15, ESV) that the disciples spoke to Jesus about quitting, packing it in for the night. Perhaps it really was because they had come unprepared to feed them all. Perhaps it really was the limited resources in their pockets that led them to want to send the crowd away. Perhaps they really were trying to protect their savior from too much work, forcing him to “take a break!” But no matter if it was one of the above or all the above, the disciples placed their faith on the sidelines. A momentary lapse. It happens to all of us. Fear creeps in. The task gets too large. Resources are too limited. How do we manage what we see as unmanageable? We put our faith on the shelf and forget where we left it.

But the Master of Grace was there to remind them. He reminds us. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat. The lesson will be repeated for the disciples, and for us. “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:20-21)

The twelve had misplaced their faith. They had temporarily forgotten who he was. They failed to recall that he had healed the afflicted through his touch, through his voice. Hundreds, dare I say thousands, had been healed by this Son from God. This wasn’t his first rodeo. He was only too ready to oblige the need. They didn’t remember that this co-creator of the universe had calmed an angry sea just by the wave of his hand. They had faith. The twelve. They just forgot where they put it. It happens sometimes. To me. To you.

But he who gives life in abundance and forgives freely had a plan. He’d take what little was there. He’d look up to his Father. He’d give thanks. He’d bless. He’d break. He’d create. Just by his touch he’d make available enough to feed thousands and have plenty left over. It would serve to remind the twelve who it was that they had chosen to follow. And if all of this wasn’t enough, Matthew’s gospel tells us that the great grace-giver, had yet another grace-filled gift to give.

"Then he (Jesus) broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” (Matt. 14:19, ESV) Those who had accidentally put their faith on a shelf, Jesus included in the plan. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

When you are full of grace, you seek always to restore. With Jesus, it’s all about grace.

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