My reason for writing these columns about Jesus is to learn how he related to the many different events that filled his days. I want to spend more time watching how he lived out his life day by day. Perhaps the most effective way to learn how to live as he lived is to pay a bit more attention to him in action.
In Matthew 15 we have the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000. What impresses me is the way Jesus continued to take the initiative. He called his disciples together, he expressed sorrow for the plight of those needing food, he asked his disciples about available loaves and fish, he told the crowd to sit down, he took the little they had, he gave thanks, he broke the bread into pieces and gave it to the disciples to be distributed. Jesus was the one definitely in charge. Had he not taken the initiative it would have been quite a different story. What can we learn from the way Jesus responded to a crowd away from home and hungry?
One thing is that we are to be acutely aware of the needs of others. The developing problem may have passed through the minds of several of the disciples but since the answer wasn’t obvious it was dismissed. They supported their inaction arguing that (1) they were in a desolate place, and (2) there was no way to get any food. (Never mind that just a short time before they watched Jesus turning five loaves of bread and two little fish into enough food to feed 5,000 men, to say nothing of the women and children who would have been there.)
That Jesus assumed leadership in this situation strikes me as important. Over the years I have tended to think of him more as responding to need than initiating action. I had the feeling that he was there to do the right thing rather than to trigger action. Obviously there needs to be a balance but at least on this occasion if Jesus hadn’t taken the initiative the 4,000 would have gone away hungry.
What the account suggests is that living like Jesus did requires us to be increasingly aware of the needs of others and how they can be met. It is all part of the life-long reversal of self-concern that must be taking place in the heart of every true believer. One problem with self-absorption is that it blinds us to the needs of others. To be like Jesus is to get over self and step up to the challenge of caring for the other. That’s what Jesus did from his first day of public ministry all the way to that last day on the cross. And it is what we do as well if we are following him.