You have probably read the story. Jesus feeds the four thousand in Matthew 15. From seven loaves and a few fish, a great crowd is miraculously filled with seven baskets of leftovers, well, left over.
But have you ever thought about the last one to be fed? There were four thousand men, plus women and children who had not eaten in three days, very likely more than ten thousand people all together. Twelve disciples had been given the task of serving all of them lunch. The crowd was not told to line up in twelve lines or let the kids go first. They were told to sit down.
And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. Matt. 15:35
These people were hungry. The smell of the the fish and bread filled the air as it was passed from one person to the next. But Jesus had told them to sit, so they did. As the baskets made their way through the crowd, the guy in the back had to be concerned. He had to see how little food was available to be shared, how hungrily the children reached in for a handful of bread, how much the people in the front were already eating. Surely there would not be enough for him. There was no way.
His stomach growled.
How did he end up in the back, anyway? Why were those people getting so much food, knowing how many were waiting still? He had been out there, listening to Jesus, longer than some of them.
Yet they were eating first.
Was that fair? Surely impatience threatened to drown out all that he had seen and heard: countless healings, restorations of sight and hearing, the lame leaping for joy and the mute finding their words for the first time. The wonder of it all was being squelched by the sound of his painfully empty stomach. He looked at Jesus, standing quietly on the mountain, watching, waiting. Did Jesus see him? Did He even know he was there? Did Jesus care about him or was he just another face in the crowd? Who determined who got served first? Was it luck? Good timing?
The baskets continued to be passed hand to hand. The sound of laughter filled the air along with the still-delectable smell of fish.
Surely those baskets were almost empty by now. How were people still reaching in and getting food? No one looked the least bit disappointed. In fact, they were sitting back on their elbows, rubbing their bellies with satisfaction and picking food out of their teeth.
Yet he was still hungry.
The baskets came within view now. So close. His stomach ground out more demands for food as the smells grew stronger. He resisted the urge to stand in order to try and see inside the baskets and guage how much was left. He was so hungry, so tempted by doubt and impatience, but as he watched those just a few feet away smile and exclaim with delight as they reached in to the baskets for food his patience…and curiosity…grew.
Could it be?
Finally, the last basket reached his outstretched hand. He looked into it, shocked.
It was nearly overflowing. He selected a piece of fish and a large chunk of bread off the top and handed the basket to the disciple waiting to collect it. As he bit into the seasoned fish he groaned. It was perfectly cooked, tender and flaky. He pinched off a bit of bread and popped it into his mouth. It melted as he chewed and he sighed in satisfaction as his stomach quieted and became full.
Up on the mountain, Jesus still stood. He was smiling and looked directly at the last man served as the disciples brought the seven full baskets of leftovers to Him.
In God’s economy, there is always enough.
In God’s Kingdom, those who wait will be satisfied.
In eternity, all the prayers that seem unanswered, all the times we have felt ignored or passed over, will be brought into the full picture of God’s tapestry and we will see the “why.” The suffering and waiting, the battle against bitterness as those around us seem to get a yes from God while we still wait, still hurt, still fight for hope, will come to an end and we will stand before the Father complete and with understanding of how our story brought life and color to the masterpiece.
Waiting is one of the hardest things we are asked to do. Whether it is for a child, the money to pay the electric bill, the restoration of a relationship or for physical healing that we just cannot imagine would not be God’s will, when we see others get the answers they seek and we still wait we become weary.
Just a few sentences before the story of Jesus feeding the crowd is another story. A quieter one that, I believe, sets the stage for this larger one when I read them together.
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” Matt. 15:22-23 (emphasis mine)
Jesus IGNORED her. The disciples were annoyed. This woman, this mother, crying out to the only One who she knew could help, was treated like a stray dog.
Yet she persisted.
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matt. 15:25-27
Here is what I know. Even in His silence, this woman insisted on pursuing Jesus.
I don’t know why He ignored her. I don’t know why he forced her into a lower position of humility than she already was. But she did not let His perceived silence stop her. She continued to follow Him, she continued to believe in Him. She didn’t care if she got “leftovers,” she just wanted what only He could give her. And from that place of trust, despite the fact that she did not fit the “mold” of a Christ follower, her daughter was finally healed.
Waiting. I don’t like it, yet I am forced into it more often than not. I don’t understand why some people wait longer than others, why some get answers and others go to their grave with unanswered prayers still lingering. But I want to be like that Canaanite woman because I know what she knew. God owes me nothing, but in Christ I have everything. I pray that I can be faithful in pursuing Jesus even when He is silent, because He has promised my eternal reward will make it all worth it.
I bank my life on that truth.