Deeply Moved for the Hungry Multitude

Deeply Moved for the Hungry Multitude

Deeply Moved for the Hungry Multitude.

“Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then He went up into the hills and sat down. Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them all. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. Jesus called to His disciples and said, “I am deeply moved with compassion (splagchnizomai) for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” (Matthew 15:29-32).

splagchnizomai  (splawnk – NITZ – oh – mi). Don’t let that strange Greek word put you off. It turns out to be one of the most meaningful ideas in the gospels, and it describes Jesus to a T. Most Bible versions translate this word to mean “moved with compassion.” But somehow that translation doesn’t quite do it justice. One might even say it doesn’t go deep enough. The literal meaning of this word is “to have one’s bowels yearn,” which makes sense since the root word for it is “intestines.” Since the innermost organs were considered at that time to be the seat of human emotions, and since love is the emotion being implied, splagchnzomai could be understood as an experience in which true compassion has its beginnings from down deep in the gut. This word points to an intense emotional experience that is felt in the pit of one’s stomach. This profound compassion is not superficial by any means, not casual, not distant. This compassion is immediate and so deeply felt that it demands action. This compassion is so visceral that it must find an outlet, a target, in doing something physical and helpful.

As we deepen our union with Christ, as we live into His reality and character, we also live into His compassion, into being deeply moved to our very innards. As theologian Jeff McSwain once said, “If we truly are ‘in Christ,’ then just as we’ve been given the mind of Christ, we’ve also been given the ‘gut’ of Christ.” Every Christian, being a little Christ, will live into the possession of the sensitive gut of Jesus.

Many have called the feeding of the 4,000 a forgotten miracle. It is often overshadowed by Jesus’ earlier feeding of the 5,000. All four Gospels record the 5,000, but only Matthew and Mark mention the equally miraculous feeding of the 4,000. But isn’t it interesting to note that these two multitudes of people were vastly different crowds. It is commonly understood that, because of their locations, the crowd of 5,000 were mostly Jews, and the crowd of 4,000 were mostly Gentiles. The Gospel writers can be forgiven for overlooking this particular miracle, because it appeared that the disciples did the same thing with the 5,000. Jesus had just fed the 5,000, with the disciples in attendance helping out in the distribution, and they come later to another large crowd, and they have forgotten that Jesus had just demonstrated to them what can done about feeding this crowd as well! I’m sure Jesus wondered at times about the short-term memory of His disciples, as He certainly is concerned with our very own amnesia.

Jesus was just beginning His ministry with the Gentiles, and, because of His God-sent ability to heal and teach, He was drawing quite a crowd. A huge throng of 4,000 people, just counting the men, had been following Jesus for three days. He was deeply concerned about the hunger they must be experiencing. He gazed at the crowd and His heart went out to them. So Jesus determined then and there to do something about that. As He did with the earlier 5,000, He asked the disciples to scrounge around and see what they could find for the people to eat. They were only able to come up with seven small loaves of bread and a handful of fish. “Good enough,” thinks Jesus, and He had everyone sit down on the ground.

Jesus then provides a dramatic preview of the Eucharist sacrament. He took the bread and broke it; He gave thanks (the Greek word used here is actually eucharisto) to God for the food; He distributed the bread to all those gathered together; the multitude partook of the broken bread. Somehow, the bread in Jesus’ hands just kept appearing. He’d break a little loaf, and more would appear. He kept multiplying fresh bread to the gathered thousands until all had eaten and were satisfied. Jesus then had the disciples gather all the remnants, all the leftover bread and fish, and put it all in baskets… seven baskets in all. In gathering the leftovers, Jesus was simply following Judaic law which forbids the destruction of food. Miraculously there was an abundance of bread left over, much more than what they originally started with. Jesus created a lot from a little, as He can do with whatever we offer to Him in our meagerness. Isn’t it interesting that during His temptation with Satan, Jesus refused to make bread from stones, but that here in the presence of this huge throng He multiplied bread for the people? Jesus had a problem doing a miracle to minister to Himself, but no problem doing a miracle for others.

The miraculous feedings of the multitudes were as practical as can be. Jesus saw hunger, and He provided food. The stomachs of the people were growling, and Jesus satisfied their hunger. But these miracles also served as powerful object lessons. Jesus saw these miracles as teaching points, almost like classroom demonstrations, and He seized on those wilderness feedings to reveal something about himself as Messiah. Jesus began to teach about being the spiritual Bread of Life, that those who feed on Him will never be spiritually hungry. He explicitly declared that He alone is the living Bread that has come down from heaven… Eat this Bread, Jesus said, and you will live forever.” (John 6).

Jesus talked about bread in the context of manna. He even compared Himself a little to that food provided in the desert. He came down from heaven, just like manna. He is to be eaten, just like manna. And He like manna was a gift from the hand of God. Manna was eaten in order to be sustained physically. Jesus is Bread that is eaten to be sustained spiritually. Manna is a bread of mystery that appeared every morning, the word manna meaning “What is it?” Jesus is another bread of mystery to many who misunderstood and rejected Him. Wilderness manna was openly revealed for all to see every day. Likewise, Jesus was walking and teaching and healing for all to see, out in the open. All who wanted manna had free and easy access. All who sought Jesus could easily find Him. All who ate manna had their hunger satisfied. All who partake of Jesus have their spiritual hunger satisfied, forever. Jesus gives the soul true nourishment, and only those with faith can truly receive it. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Ps. 34:8).

When Jesus talked about offering hidden manna in Rev. 2:17, He was no doubt offering Himself as the Bread from heaven, His own body and blood. Unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we don’t have His life in us. In John 6, Jesus seemed to be foreshadowing His Last Supper. He is referring to the Eucharist in both John 6 and Rev. 2:17. The manna comes down from heaven in the sacramental Communion in which Jesus is, in a sense, hiding. Christ is spiritually hidden in the physical bread and wine. His Holy Spirit is intimately interconnected within the bread and wine. The elements are fused with the Spirit. The Hidden Manna is offered to believers as the living Bread to be spiritually consumed and digested in the innermost being. The mystical Presence, the Real Presence, within the Hidden Manna. The Eucharist is spiritual food available to all who believe in the Living Bread. To receive the power of God and the life of Christ, His flesh and blood must be accepted as spiritual nourishment hidden in the physical elements. Jesus Christ, the Hidden Manna, for the life of the world.