Jesus Doesn’t Use IVR! (John 6:1-15)
If you’ve recently tried to call your insurance, credit card, utility or any of the other myriad companies you deal with on a daily basis, your call was no doubt answered by a pleasant but dispassionate voice inviting you to spend the next hour or so attempting to get help from a real, live human being. Welcome to the advent of IVR or “interactive voice response”–a way for you to feel like you are talking to someone without actually doing so. In 2002 alone, companies spent some $7.4 billion to beef up their IVR systems, placing more and more layers of menus and information between themselves and their customers. In other words, many companies have found that it simply costs too much in terms of time and personnel to spend time chatting with us about our needs. Given the fact that trying to find a human to provide assistance on the other end is a postmodern pipedream, it would be better for these corporations to just give us the real scoop up front.
Some enterprising consumer advocates are fighting back, however. Paul English was recently featured on NPR and several other media outlets for his website that gives consumers the special “secret codes” to connect directly with a customer service representative. Some of his techniques involve creativity (like pretending you are using a rotary phone or consistently pushing the “0” when prompted) and outright backdoor deception (accessing the Spanish-speaking line in hopes of getting a bilingual representative to answer), while others are based on just knowing the right numbers to push at which prompt. The website lists over 100 companies and their codes for getting quickly connected to an actual human.
When we need something badly, we want to talk directly to the person who can get it for us rather than following the path of most resistance through a maze of menus. Servers and cubicle farms full of harried and underpaid call center reps (which are likely somewhere overseas) are no substitute for someone who will really listen and respond.
The classic example of getting what you need when you need it is contained in the episode of the feeding of the 5,000. That it occurs in all four gospels is a clue that it was an important story about the ability of Jesus to provide very personal and powerful service. The crucial point here is that the people had an immediate and pressing need, an immediate Person to address that need, and an immediate response to the need.
The People had An Immediate And Pressing Need, vv 1-6
This episode takes place sometime after Jesus healed a 38-year-old invalid at Bethesda (Jn 5:1-15). We are not told how long after the healing at Bethesda Jesus feeds the 5,000; the text simply says “after these things.” The time span isn’t important, or John would have told us what that time span was. The chronology is vitally important to understanding this story, however. Jesus had healed an invalid on the Sabbath and because it was a Sabbath, the Jewish leaders made a big deal out of it. Because the Jewish leaders had made such a big deal out of it, everyone knew what Jesus had done.
The people knew what Jesus could do, so when he crosses the Sea of Galilee–in all likelihood to get a little R&R–a great crowd followed because they had witnessed Jesus’ healings. John implies that these crowds follow Jesus, because they, too, stand in need of some type of healing. Matthew and Luke make John’s implication quite explicit. “When Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick” (Matt 14:14). “The multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing” (Lk 9:11). Thus, several of those who had gathered around Jesus needed healing.
They also needed something to eat. Jesus looks at the large crowd coming, and He looks at Philip and says, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (v 5). The other Gospels make clear that this was late in the day, time for something to eat, but these people were in a remote location–miles away from being able to find something to eat. “When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food'” (Matt 14:15).
The crowd Jesus encounters has some real needs. Many of them are sick, perhaps with diseases that no doctor can cure. Remember the lady who had had bleeding issues for twelve years? She “had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse” (Mk 5:26). Jesus, however, was able to heal her. I wonder if many of these people were not in that same predicament–if they had not been to doctor after doctor but had found no cure. These were desperate people in need of healing. These people were hungry, but they were far from any place to find sustenance–There was not a Walmart Supercenter nearby.
How many people today have immediate and pressing needs? How many people are so sick with sin that they have lost their families, their jobs, and their reputations? How many people are hungry for the Word of God and searching desperately but have no clue what Scripture teaches? How many people have such great anxiety that they cannot sleep at night? How many people are waiting to have surgery, not knowing whether or not they will wake up, and worried what might happen if they don’t wake up?
The photographer for a national magazine was assigned to get photos of a great forest fire. Smoke at the scene hampered him and he asked his home once to hire a plane. Arrangements were made and he was told to go at once to a nearby airport, where the plane would be waiting. When he arrived at the airport, a plane was warming up near the runway. He jumped in with his equipment and yelled, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” The pilot swung the plane into the air, and they were soon in the air. “Fly over the north side of the fire,” yelled the photographer, “and make three or four low level passes.” “Why?” asked the pilot. “Because I’m going to take pictures,” cried the photographer. “I’m a photographer and photographers take pictures!” After a pause the pilot said, “You mean you’re not the instructor!” Those two men, like so many in this world, had an immediate and pressing need!
The People Had An Immediate Person to Address That Need, vv 7-11
There is nothing worse than calling a company needing help in putting a toy together on Christmas morning and spending the next two hours waiting for a person to come on the phone. We probably feel like the man on an island. On a passenger ship, everyone could see a thin bearded man on a small island, shouting and desperately waving his hands. “Who is that on the island?” a passenger asked the captain. “I have no idea . . . but every year when we pass, he goes nuts.”
These people don’t need to keep waving their hands to get someone’s attention, but when He sees them, Jesus has compassion. He had already asked Philip where they were going to buy bread for the people to eat. Philip answers, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” Two hundred denarii would be about eight months’ wages. You can almost hear Philip saying, “Jesus, what are we supposed to do? Max out our credit cards just so this group can have something to eat? Look, I know they’re hungry; I am, too. But, it’s not our problem. Just tell them to go get something.”
Are we sometimes kinda like Philip, not wanting to get involved and wanting to keep our distance from people? Someone calls and needs help moving and we say we’re busy that day, trying to find something to do rather than help. Someone needs a lady to stay with an aged mother, and we say that we’ve just got our plate full right now. Someone needs a shoulder to cry on, and they call us on the phone, but we fib and say we have company so we don’t have to listen.
Andrew helps a little bit. He said to Jesus, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew basically says, “Jesus, we can do some, but we just can’t do a whole lot in such a situation.” Sometimes we’re like Andrew, aren’t we? Willing to help but feeling woefully inadequate. We go to visit someone who has just lost a loved one, but we really have no idea what to say. A marriage is about to go down the tubes, and we know we can pray for the couple, but we aren’t sure what else we can do, for we don’t have a degree in counseling. Someone is beginning to feel anxious about his future, and we invite him to church, but we cannot answer all his questions.
I really believe this text is written to show the inadequacies of the apostles. Philip could not come up with enough money to buy bread for all these folks, and Andrew could not find a little boy with a lunch box big enough to feed all these folks. No way on this earth could the apostles feed all those folks. But, Jesus could. He told the disciples to have the people sit down, He blessed the loaves and the fish, distributed them, and everyone had plenty to eat. Whatever problems these people had, the apostles might not have been able to help, but Jesus could.
Oh, that we’d keep that ever in mind! When we help someone move, sit with an aged mother, or listen to someone cry, through our good works, we’re showing Jesus to those who need help. Through our good deeds, we’re allowing others to glorify our Father in heaven. When we go to visit a grieved loved one, talking with someone who is about to leave his spouse, or conversing with someone anxious about his future, we do not have the answers. Jesus does. Let us ever remember that men are inadequate, but Jesus isn’t! And let us point people to Him, not ourselves!
The People had An Immediate Response to Their Need
These hungry and sick individuals didn’t have to sit on the phone and wait a while before someone starts helping them, but they were able to receive help immediately.
Jesus helped them when they needed help. Jesus will help us when we need help, too. I can’t promise you an immediate response, for Scripture doesn’t make such a promise. “He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Lk 18:1). If Jesus promised an immediate answer to prayer, He wouldn’t be concerned that his disciples might give up praying.
But, on the other hand, there is a sense in which we can have immediate relief for our spiritual condition. When I obey the Word of God, I do not have to wait for forgiveness. Annnias told Saul of Tarsus, “Now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16)–That forgiveness would be instantaneous. I have heard people say that were saved after they were baptized. I insist that’s not biblical–We are saved when we’re baptized–at that instant we’ve obeyed God, we’re forgiven.
When I remember the promises of God, I don’t have to wait for comfort. “[Cast] all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). Who among us hasn’t faced great anxiety in this life, remembered that passage of Scripture, prayed, and felt immediate comfort in knowing God cared about us?
I believe there’s a moral here beside just the concern that God has for his people, viz., how will we respond when others need our help? Will we respond now, or will we wait? There is great danger in waiting: “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (Jn 9:4). “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Js 4:17).
Will we wait when people need us, or will we respond as quickly as possible? Will we point people to Jesus while there is still time, or will we regret that we missed opportunities? Will we listen when a wife needs us, or will we regret that we didn’t after she files for divorce? Will we train our children in righteousness, or will we regret that we didn’t after they leave the church? Do you need to come this evening to put Jesus on in baptism, or regret through all eternity that you squandered this opportunity? If so, there’s no need to wait, but you can have instantaneous forgiveness as you do the will of God.