The gospel today is a continuation of the story of the disciples sent out by Jesus to preach, heal and to cast out demons. They have now returned from that mission and are jubilant about all they had done. We know Jesus sent them out but what in the world ever gave them the idea that they could actually perform the same miracles as Jesus?
How did the disciples make the leap from followers who observed and listened to Jesus to wonder workers who healed the sick? Keep in mind that that the disciples were still struggling with who Jesus was. Up to this point in time they had seen Jesus heal diseases, give sight to the blind, and restore limbs that no longer functioned. They had seen him scandalize the religious leaders by forgiving sins and challenging their strict adherence to the law. They had even seen him raise the dead to life and calm the storm that raged around their boat. But they were often confused about who he was and uncertain about his mission.
The miracles they witnessed should have been enough to convince them that he was the promised messiah. But the scriptures also show us their struggles with who he was up to the day of Pentecost. In fact just before they go out on this mission, we see them asking themselves, “who is this who commands even the winds and the sea…” (Lk. 8:25). Yes the scriptures tell us that they were filled with awe and were amazed but does awe and amazement give them enough faith to go out and heal the sick?
There is a great lesson for us wrapped up in this story. They are back from the mission and are anxious to tell Jesus all the things they did. Jesus wants to hear their stories and invites them to go to a place where they can rest. But Jesus also knows that rest will not happen because the crowds have already arrived. He knows there is more work to be done. So Jesus begins to teach the crowd and as the day goes on the people are getting hungry. The disciples encourage Jesus to dismiss the crowds so they can find food in the nearby villages. But we know that Jesus once again challenges the disciples’ faith by telling them to “give them some food yourselves.”
Now we find the disciples without a clue of what to do next. They had just days before healed the sick and casting out demons. They can see nothing that they can do that would feed thousands. In their minds what Jesus is asking them to do is impossible to achieve. They know that there is not enough money to buy food for thousands. Nor is there enough food among the people to even consider asking them to sharing it with others.
They have made an about face from total belief that God can work miracles through them to utter panic. Why the sudden change from the belief that they could do the impossible to we cannot do the impossible any longer. We know that as they went out on their mission Jesus gave the disciples his authority to preach, to heal and cast out demons. They did not question or doubt their ability to do exactly what he told them to do. Why do they doubt now?
Here is the question this gospel should challenge us to consider. Do we trust God enough to truly follow him and take a step into the unknown and do something that manifest our utter dependence on him?
The mission of the disciples is more than a story about the past. It is a story about today. It is as story that tells us several things about being a Christian. It tells us that we as disciples have been given authority to go and do as Jesus did. Jesus in that upper room the night before he died said this to us, “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these… (Jn. 14:12). So today each of us has the mission to go out and do as he did. The gospel today also tells us that the demands on us to proclaim the kingdom are never ending. We cannot and should not find that place where we just rest in Jesus.
The words of Jesus the night before he died are clear that we have a source of strength because of the gift of the Spirit. All we need to do what Jesus did is found by us praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to fill us as it did the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The disciples took nothing on their mission but faith in the words of Jesus and they battled unbelief, pain, suffering and the forces of evil. It is time for us to do the same.
The sad truth is that we have become far too comfortable with just living out our faith within our parishes. God’s words to us should shake us to the core for the world is hungry for the message of forgiveness; for the message of hope; for the message that all we need is found in Christ. Let us not look back at whatever it is we did or how we served the kingdom but let us understand our call to do as Jesus did.