After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews.
When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”
One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”
Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.
When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, “This is the Prophet for sure, God’s Prophet right here in Galilee!” Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself. // John 5:1-15, The Message
As I was thinking about this story this morning, I was wrestling with what do I write about? Does anyone need another moralistic lesson from this passage? Do we need another devotional on “stretching faith”? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. I mean, I love that this passage drives home that we do not need to live with a scarcity mindset and that we can trust that God will provide. It’s good stuff.
But, what really hit me was the phrase, “so he slipped off…”
Jesus just up and left.
Because he “saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king.”
Jesus just didn’t get it, did he?
He could have been king! He could have had it all! The crowds were eating out of his hand, literally.
I wonder, if I was in the same position as Jesus what would I have done? I likely would have accepted the role and tried to do “good.”
I am reminded of the scene in The Lord of the Rings where Frodo tries to give Gandalf the ring of power:
Frodo: Take it, Gandalf, you must take it!
Gandalf:I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo, I would use this ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.
I know my own heart so well. My greatest fear as a pastor is that I will deeply wound someone through using my position as leverage in their life. So many of us pastors have abused people in so many ways. I even see this fear in my wife as she doesn’t want to leverage her role as “pastor’s wife” in a way that makes people feel compelled to do things.
Jesus is such a beautiful example for spiritual leaders. We really ought to be people who slip away from the crowds and who seek to keep ourselves from the adulation of the crowds. Yet, in our day and age the “successful” pastors are those who do the exact opposite of Jesus. The “best” and the “brightest” are the ones who can draw the crowd and have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. No wonder we see spiritual abuse and trauma all over the place.
When we as leaders become so enamored with ourselves and our ministries that we miss what we are really called to be, that is people who are administering spiritual salves to the broken-hearted, then we have lost the plot.
The American church today needs more spiritual leaders who will set aside the power and the fame for the quiet presence of being involved in the lives of people.
I remember reading about how Eugene Peterson, a pastor’s pastor if there ever was one, would read The Brothers Karamazov every year to remind himself that the people in his congregation had stories that were compelling and very real.
Pastors, we need to get serious about what our calling is. It isn’t to be a celebrity. It isn’t to be “king” or “queen.” It is to be like the Good Samaritan, being present with the hurting and the wounded to bring healing. We do so with presence, we do so in speaking grace, mercy, and truth. We do so by slipping off from the crowds to do our work in the lives of real people.
As I continue to think about this and dwell on this, I realize again how much I need to repent of my own sin-sick heart. I have such a desire for the crowd. Oh, what I would give to be “on the conference circuit.” How wonderful would it be to have bestsellers and thousands listening to me preach every Sunday!
Yet, sitting with a man in his hospital room is better.
Yet, answering the questions of a teen struggling with doubt is better.
Yet, being present in the life of community is better.
Yet, being fully available and present to my wife and children is better.
My prayer is that those of us in spiritual leadership will never seek the throne but that we would “slip off..”