By Gary E. Mueller
Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference
Then the disciples gave the (fish and loves) to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 21 About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten. (Matthew 28:19-20 CEV)
The mission of the United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for God’s transformation of the world.” But if you are going to make disciples of Jesus Christ who transform lives, communities and the world, you first have to be a disciple who has been transformed yourself!
So what does it mean to be a transformed disciple? While Methodist people love arguing about this, it really comes down to something pretty simple. Transformed disciples are shaped by Jesus.
One of the most helpful accounts about how Jesus wants to shape us as his disciples is found in a somewhat unexpected passage of Scripture, Matthew 14:13-21. While it is best known as “The Feeding of the 5,000”, it is better described as “Way More Than Enough Food for a Whole Lot More Than 5,000 People!”
Here are the ways it shows you how Jesus wants to shape you so you can thrive through him.
Follow Jesus with everything you’ve got because he’s all you’ve got. The disciples run after Jesus because they want to be fed by him. They won’t let anything stop them, including stopping to make provisions for eating or sleeping. In fact, they are so enthusiastic they beat him to the other side. Ultimately, Jesus is all you have. You have to seek him, follow him and ask him to feed you.
Lead with compassion. Jesus has traveled to the other side of the water because he desperately needs some “me time” with God. When the crowds that have followed him meet him there, he immediately sets aside his personal agenda and begins healing people in body, mind and spirit. Jesus’ followers always lead with compassion. Compassion is not a liberal thing or a conservative thing. It comes from God’s heart, and you are called to share what Jesus has showered on you. If hard choices have to be made, it’s always in the context of the compassion you already have shared.
See life the way Jesus sees it. The disciples are concerned that it’s late and no one has any food. They beg Jesus to send the crowds away because they see through the eyes of scarcity. Jesus tells them to feed the people because he sees through the eyes of God’s abundance. You are called by Jesus to avoid the trap of seeing life the way it seems. Instead, you are given the privilege of seeing how the reign of God already is real all around you.
Do what Jesus tells you, especially when it’s risky, scary or outside your comfort zone. The disciples have questions, doubts and probably are wondering if Jesus has lost his mind. Yet they take the food he gives them in spite of their doubts and pass it out anyway. This may be the most challenging thing you do, especially when everyone else is telling you what you should do. But it’s essential, and it’s always a privilege.
Expect God to do the unexpected. When the disciples have finished passing out the food, they pick up the leftovers only to discover there is more food then they began with! While you live in the real world, you also live in God’s world where the unexpected miracle is really just another everyday event!
Being shaped by Jesus is an everyday practice. Some days will be easier than others. But most painful situations can be opportunities for Jesus to so shape you from the inside-out that you literally become a new person. Of course, you’ll never be perfect, but you will be more and more perfect in love. And that’s always the bottom line for Jesus!