I love the story of Jesus in Bethsaida. As Luke tells it, Jesus had had a busy few weeks of ministry, curing the demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes, healing the woman with a 12-year hemorrhage, raising Jairus’ daughter back to life in Galilee, and then sending out the disciples for ministry. He had only recently received news of his cousin John’s beheading, and Jesus was ready for a break.
But when he and his disciples withdrew to Bethsaida, somehow the crowds found out. Despite feeling a bit broken himself, Jesus continued to minister to those who came, preaching about the kingdom and healing the sick and wounded.
When the day was drawing to a close, the disciples, having not gotten a chance to rest either, begged Jesus to send away the crowds. It’s late, and they’ll need time to find lodging and food, they reasoned. But Jesus simply responded: “You give them something to eat.”
I imagine myself in the story and sigh deeply. It’s too much, I hear myself say. It’s more than we can handle. Even though the disciples themselves had also just spent days traveling around healing the sick and preaching the gospel, they ran up against the limit of what they could imagine. True, they lacked resources. They had taken inventory and found they had just five loaves and two fishes. But more than that, they lacked vision. They couldn’t see how Jesus would feed so many.
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them,” Luke writes in 9:16.
Jesus didn’t focus on what he didn’t have. But he didn’t stare intently on the little he did have, either. Instead, he looked to heaven. And whether he could see all the way into the Father’s storehouse or whether he simply looked up to remind himself of His Father’s heart, Jesus gazed heavenward and saw the answer to the disciple’s problem. He knew it would be remedied only with gratitude and brokenness.
Last week, we talked about Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.” We also looked at 1 Corinthians 10, to see that “the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks is a participation in the blood of Christ.” We give thanks in all things because we know God is still good even in the darkest moments.
But as we see there on the hillside of Bethsaida, as the disciples collect the 12 baskets of leftovers, that we also give thanks in our brokenness to restore a vision for God’s work in our lives when all else seems lost.
We don’t have to be thankful for what we don’t have, and we shouldn’t stop by being thankful for the little we do have. Our gratitude must extend beyond the five loaves and the two fishes … all the the way to the 12 baskets leftover, even before the first person is fed.
I know it seems hard. I know the situation looks dire. I know you’ve been saying for a while now, “It’s too much. It’s more than we can handle.” But God wants you to see the banquet he has planned for the multitudes even though all you have in your hand is a picnic for one.
This kind of gratitude isn’t easy. In fact, it feels a lot like hard faith.
And that’s kind of the point.