“Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he knew what he would do.”
The way God decides to incorporate fallen and weak human beings in His plan is one of my favorite parts of the Gospel. Jesus was fully capable of going through His life without the assistance of 12 tagalongs, but His ministry would not have been as tangible to mankind. Similar to the adage, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime,” Jesus was not merely serving the poor for the brief time He was incarnate on this earth. He was equipping generations of men to serve the poor and feed the hungry for years and years after His ascension. Jesus’ actions called the disciples into a deeper understanding of how the world was created to be. His assault on their understanding of the “natural order” of society would shape the rest of their ministries and the global spread of the early church.
So you may wonder, how does this apply to our society 2,000 years later? We have not had the benefit of watching our Lord and Savior feed thousands of people. If we look closely at the mechanics of Jesus’ work, we can incorporate this framework into our lives and our efforts to serve the community of Marion County. Christ’s question to Phillip exposes a great deal about the heart attitude of a servant leader. We, especially in America, tend to think of ourselves as a fairly competent people who can solve our own problems through the means we have been given. Philip finds himself in a situation where he is blatantly over his head and has no hope of getting out of this predicament by his own merit. Like Philip, we must also realize our dependence on Jesus to adequately help the people around us who are in need. We may be tempted to minimize our need for Jesus’ help because we feel, for the most part, we can handle the small problems in our lives but we will take some help on the big stuff. We treat Jesus like a tag team wrestling partner who we tap in when we get pinned by the struggles of our life, when in reality, we are completely helpless against the smallest of opposition without Jesus’ strength in our lives. So like Philip, we must first and foremost acknowledge our complete lack of ability to fix the problems at hand. There is no way that 12 people going to Haiti by themselves can make a dent in the immense poverty of the country. There is no hope for a tiny church to impact the lives of a large city on their own. We are outmatched and will be buried in our own weakness, but with the power of God in these meager efforts, big things can happen. Communities and cities and countries can be flipped upside down by the gospel when God works through His people.
The disciples get a firsthand glimpse of the response of a community that misdiagnoses the problem in their lives. Instead of seeing their need for a savior, the crowd only sees their need for more food. In the same way, if we merely give the poor and needy in our society a sandwich and a coat, we are putting a Band-Aid on a head laceration. We are not called to make people follow us, but to point them to Christ. Jesus’ mission was to redeem the entire cosmos, which does involve filling the stomachs of the hungry, but the mission of the church should be so much bigger than that. We not only need to feed the physically hungry, but the spiritually hungry as well. The world is longing for redemption and creation groans for shalom. Don’t just give your community a Band-Aid, give them a lasting salvation that can only come from the creator of the universe.