13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21 (ESV)
But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The disciples want to send the crowds away, but Jesus has mercy and compassion on them. The disciples want the crowds to fend for themselves and buy bread in the villages so they can have some time alone with Christ, but Christ chooses to reveal the kingdom of heaven to them, to give them milk without money, bread without price. In his compassion he tells the disciples, you give them something to eat. Then he blesses the bread and breaks it with his people.
The crowds have gathered around Jesus. They have heard the same news he did. The news that had driven him out to this desolate place, resembling the barren waste land where he had fasted for forty days after being baptized by John the Baptist. This is the news that Jesus had heard. The Baptizer’s head served on a platter. The whole country side is upset and looking for answers, looking for mercy, looking for hope, consolation, and even confirmation in the midst of shattered dreams, and despair.
He was one they had really hoped in, the whole countryside had gone out into the wastelands along the banks of the Jordan to see him. Everyone poured out to the countryside to be baptized by him. He was everything they expected the messiah to be. He preached the law in all its sternness to crowds of people. Priests and prostitutes, soldiers and saints, Pharisees and publicans, broods of vipers stood there entranced like so many cobra’s being charmed by an Indian’s flute as they heard him speak of winnowing forks and chaff, axes and tree roots. And now that he is dead they begin to hear.
As long as he was alive it didn’t matter what he said or did, they thought he was the messiah. He confessed that he was not, but it didn’t matter. He was what they expected in a messiah, a man preaching the law in all its ferocity, and truth to power. People instinctively believe there is salvation in that sort of thing, diets of locusts and wild honey, celibate wanderings in desert places, strict ascetic discipline of any kind. He would tell them his baptism was of water only, and that one came after him with a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire that would fulfill Ezekiel 36 where God told them he would sprinkle them with clean water and put his spirit inside them. He told them that he only came to prepare the way, the way the truth and the life was yet to come. He told them he wasn’t the Messiah. He pointed to Christ and yelled, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He told them, “He must increase and I must decrease.” And now he could decrease no more. Now the crowds would gather in mourning and follow the one he had spent his life telling them to follow, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.
His disciples, the disciples of Jesus didn’t know what to do. They too had been with John. They were there when Jesus was baptized. They were there when Nicodemus came by night to hear their Lord as he spoke of being born again of water and spirit to a Pharisee who had refused baptism. They had gone with Jesus to lay low, and grieve, to come to grips with what had happened. And then the crowds came, lost like sheep without a shepherd. The disciples would run them off to go fend for themselves, to go buy their own bread by the sweat of their brows. To find their own way, their own answers. But now Jesus tells the disciples to give them something to eat. He has compassion on the people. He blesses the bread and reveals to them the kingdom of God, feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish, the kingdom where milk is bought without money, bread without price.
So Jesus feeds the five thousand, and gives life in the barren desert, in the midst of death when the law failed to deliver the life it promised, because the disciple of the law failed to live according to it. This is the kingdom of God that he reveals. No longer eating bread by the sweat of our brow, no longer our righteousness, the sustenance of our spirit, to be slain by a sinner’s soiree. Here in the midst of this desolate place here in the midst of our world, where our hopes are so often dashed, when we find ourselves wandering like sheep without a shepherd, here is one who does not fail, who blesses the bread we eat, that here we would have life and righteousness. That here we would purchase milk without money and buy bread without price. That here in his compassion the kingdom of God would be revealed to us in the forgiveness of sins and peace with God.