You Got Yourself into This Mess
Send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves. Matthew 14:15
When I see those around me struggling with self-destructive behavior, it’s easy to look down and use tough love as an excuse to do nothing. You got yourself into this mess. You can get yourself out. Getting involved with the lives of others is messy and often costs me time and/or money. It’s far more comfortable to tell myself that God wants people to learn their lesson the hard way. If I help, I’ll just enable and encourage more destructive behavior. I bet God wants me to do nothing.
This seems to be the attitude of the disciples in today’s passage. In the story, a crowd of more than 5,000 followed Jesus to a desolate place (no restaurants). Jesus spent the day healing the sick, but when evening came, the disciples told Jesus that he needed to send the people away for supper. The disciples had only enough food for themselves and the crowd hadn’t come prepared. I can imagine their argument: These people didn’t plan well and they didn’t think this through. For their own good, send them away. They made poor choices and now they’re hungry. This isn’t our problem. They got themselves into this mess.
Those things were all true, but Jesus didn’t dismiss the crowd. Instead, he insisted that the disciples use what they had to do what they could. You give them something to eat. Jesus actions revealed that the needy crowd wasn’t an inconvenience to be dismissed. I can imagine Jesus response: If you want to be my disciples, you must do as I do. Use whatever you have to do whatever you can to love those around you. Yes, they make poor choices and cause themselves misery, but these people are the mission. This is your job.
We all have those around us in need. For Christians, this is our mission. Sometimes though, we use our faith to justify doing nothing. If I help, he’ll take advantage of me. If I give him money, he’ll just buy alcohol. I think God wants him to learn a painful lesson. To be sure, there are times when tough love is the answer. Sometimes we do need to allow painful consequences. If, however, we always use tough love as an excuse to do nothing, then we’re not following Christ’s example and we’re not living the life of a disciple. We’re simply justifying our disobedience and apathy.