The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii[f] worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. – Mark 6:30-44
On one occasion, during an interview with a prospective ministry staff person, we asked “What is the biggest challenge you face in your ministry?” The answer: “People.” Ugh! That was not what we wanted to hear. People are challenging – on both sides of the staff/member equation. But people are not the challenge of ministry. People are opportunities for God’s work to be seen and experienced. The problem with people is not the people. It is the challenge of motivating people, getting them to cooperate, helping them to connect with the ministry opportunities and church’s ministries.
Those are big enough challenges to be sure. But imagine that problem multiplied by 5000! Then multiply that times 3 or more – that’s the number of men, then adding the women and children who were no doubt part of that crowd you get 15,000. Now that’s a challenge.
The challenge is also in us who seek to minister to and with those people. Too often we can see people as impediments to mission. More quickly than we might realize we can turn what could be a God-glorifying situation into an adversarial relationship. The disciples saw the crowds as something to be gotten rid of. Their solution to a problem not yet even stated was to send the people home. They wanted to kick back and relax after a day’s teaching, traveling, and talking.
Jesus wanted more. He saw the people as…well…people. Imagine that! They’re not problems. They’re not nuisances. They’re not trouble. They are people. Jesus saw them for what they were: sheep without a shepherd. And he is the Good Shepherd. His mission was to come and lead them back to God, to call them to repentance, to redeem them, to seek and save them.
There are those moments when any of us need some space. Even Jesus got away and took time alone with God from time to time. That alone time allowed him to respond to people with kindness, grace, compassion, and love. On this occasion it meant that he would feed them – a miraculous multiplication of a boy’s lunch.
When you think of it, it is a good thing that Jesus didn’t think of us as problems, but as people. We, too – without him – are like sheep without a shepherd. Thank God we have been brought back to the shepherd of our souls.
Is there someone you know who needs such a Good Shepherd?