Summary: Jesus’ request for us to do stock taking - the reason, the reaction, the resources, the result
If you have been in business of any kind, I am sure you will have had to be involved in stock taking. I am told that even with modern bar-coding sometimes a manual stock take is required. You sometimes need to know just what you have got. I can venture a fairly safe guess that one of our church members is very experienced in stock taking wool. Now I must say that I’ve been rather lucky in this regard. My stocktaking is always been rather more interesting than simply counting boxes. I have had to count cattle. I have measured stacks of timber. Very early on in my career, I had to measure the stock of gravel at a gravel pit. I had to scratch around in my memory to work out how to do it. And some of you deal with a different sort of stock taking with money.
And of course, stock taking is nothing new. Because even Jesus knew about stocktaking. It’s there right in the middle of our reading from Matthew’s gospel today. Jesus asked his disciples ‘How many loaves have you?’. Jesus asked his disciples to do some stocktaking.
Now in many circumstances, stock taking can be thoroughly boring. But you see stock taking is necessary for all sorts of very good reasons. When I was measuring the heaps of gravel at the pit, it was necessary to measure the stocks of gravel to ensure that my client, the landowner, obtained the right royalties every year. In other cases, stock taking is necessary to ensure that you have enough of the right resources for a project, or a development, or a new initiative. So you need to know what it is you’ve got for a reason.
So what was the reason that Jesus asked his disciples to do some stock taking? Well, let’s look at what has been going on. Jesus has been out of the country. Perhaps a sort of sabbatical. Because we see in verse 21 that Jesus had gone out of the country into the area of Tyre and Sidon. And it may be that he had tried to go off into a quiet place in the country for some peace. But everywhere he went, people came to him. V30. ‘Great crowds came to him’. And on this occasion, a huge crowd of four thousand men, as well as women and children, had come to hear him speak, had come to be healed, and had come to bring people for healing. It was such a great event that people had been there for three days.
The people had been with the Jesus for three days. And having been there the three days, the picnics that they had brought with them had been well and truly exhausted. They were hungry. Indeed, they were so hungry that Jesus was concerned that people would faint if they travelled away without being fed. So there was a practical need, very clearly identified by Jesus, for food.
Although the Roman Empire ran on excellent bureaucracy, I don’t think they’d invented the health and safety executive. So Jesus identification of the need the food was not born out of a concern to avoid litigation, or to ensure that no accidents happened on his watch. It wasn’t even just because he felt that he ought to. Jesus identification of the need arose out of his compassion. This is very clearly stated in verse 32. GNB says ’I feel sorry for these people’. This is a bit weak. The Greek word here is one of my favourites - splanchnizomai - it means gut wrenching compassion. Have you ever experienced that sense of being so disturbed by something that it really hurts you just here? That’s the sense I get of the feeling the Jesus had for the people and their needs. Jesus identification of the need arose out of his compassion for the people.
So faced with the need that Jesus had identified, what was the reaction of the people around him? What was the reaction of his disciples, his followers? Well, I think there are three reactions. Firstly, there is a sense in which they are perplexed by the statement Jesus has just made. It is almost as if they don’t really understand. There is a lack of understanding. As my daughter would say to me ‘get real’. The disciples are saying to Jesus ’it’s a nice idea, but you cannot really be serious.’
Secondly, there is the reaction that is one of disbelief. Just remember what’s been happening. Over the last three days people have been healed, the dumb were speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walked and the blind were able to see. And yet, the disciple’s reaction to Jesus identification of a need for food is one of disbelief. There is a lack of belief. It’s almost as if they have seen all these miracles and yet it hasn’t got through to them that God can deal with the practical needs of food just as well. Maybe they think that food is too ordinary for God to be concerned about.