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Who He Really Is

John 6:1-15
28th March 2004

I have been chairing the Inquiry into the complaints handling procedures of our State’s Health Service. The deaths of nineteen patients in our Camden and Campbelltown public hospitals led to a group of whistle-blower nurses indicating poor practices within the health system. Instead of welcoming the information, the nurses were forced out of the health service. The issue is how wide-spread is this practice, how effective or otherwise is our complaints handling system, and is this practice endemic throughout all of the state. That is an on-going enquiry and I will bring a report to the Parliament with recommendations in a few months time. But as with many community problems, one thing is clear: changed attitudes would help other people.

Take for example the problem of hunger in the third world. Thousands of Australians will soon take part in World Vision’s 40 hour Famine to raise money for the hungry. We will give what we can, but what impact can such a little have on the vastness of the problem? Hunger in Ethiopia and the sub-Saharan area is such a vast international problem that many people think it can never be solved. Central Africa is rich in resources yet its people face malnutrition because of civil war, racial persecution, and political corruption. We grow pessimistic in the light of the size of the problem. Our pessimism leads to paralysis. Because we cannot do everything we cease to do even the something we can do.

Or consider the problem of homelessness. One does not need to travel overseas to come face to face with hunger and homelessness. Poverty and homelessness in Australia faces us outside our doors in Pitt Street or as I drive each night past the Domain.

Hundreds of homeless sleep in the shelter of the empty Domain car-park. Up to two hundred eat food in Sylvia Case Square by Haig Lane. At 8pm every night, a white van pulls up and within seconds, people emerge from the shadows, and begin to form an uneasy line. Jeff and Alina Gambin, of ‘Just Enough Faith’ have arrived to feed them. Jeff, a retired businessman and gourmet chef has devoted the last nine years of his life to the homeless, and has helped many to get back into society, finding them jobs and real homes. He buys all of the food and cooks it all himself. They have just enough faith to enable them to continue.

Government make promises, but that is no warmth, no shelter! Large caring organizations like Wesley Mission have higher and higher demands placed upon them for food and clothing, warmth and shelter. Our Church Welfare organizations alone are spending $200 million annually on helping the poor and homeless apart from what local congregations do, plus the labour of 30,000 volunteers as well. But while churches help, it is Government attitudes that are contributing to the problem! In this lucky country we are sick of people suffering from cold homelessness and grinding poverty. Changed attitudes can help people. There was an event in the life of Jesus when He was faced by a massive crowd of hungry people who wanted food. His disciples were overwhelmed by the size of the problem and offered all the same excuses that we hear today. But Jesus held different attitudes. Because His attitude was different, He approached the problem in a different manner. Notice how the attitudes and beliefs of the disciples led them to being overwhelmed by the size of the problem before them.


The scene was an ordinary one which took place after Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding, healed the official’s son, the paralysed man at Bethesda and many others. “Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee.” He was weary and needed rest. But “a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.” John 6:1-3 He would have no rest. Thousands of people followed six miles round the north of the lake and converged upon them. From now on, the disciples were defeated by the size of the problem facing them. Consider the attitudes that paralysed their faith and note how alike they are to so many politicians and bureaucrats today.

Negative attitudes see only problems. “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. v5-7 Philip was overwhelmed by the size of the problem: there were too many people, the hour was late, and where they were cut out any possible answer. So many in our country are pessimistic about feeding the hungry or housing the homeless: the problem is too big, time has run out, and we are too insignificant to make a difference.

Negative attitudes hope the problems will go away. So the disciples continued: “Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.” People always wish their problem would go away. Defeated themselves, they don’t want to see it.

Negative attitudes underestimate their own resources. Their defeated attitude paralyses their using their existing resources. “They don’t have to leave”, answered Jesus, “you yourselves give them something to eat!” Matthew 14:15 Jesus believed that would handle the problem with the right attitude, belief and commitment. They knew there was no way their resources could make any difference. Even when Andrew came up with a fresh idea, even he dismissed it as inadequate. “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” v8-9 Here was a typical attitude of an overwhelmed person: he looked at what resources were available and said: “how far will they go among so many?”

Negative attitudes think money will solve all problems. “Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” v8 Why Philip? Because he lived nearby and had already been making the point that knowing where to get food was pointless when they did not have sufficient money to pay for it. Philip had fallen for the money trap, that political attitude which thinks social problems can be solved by more money. Yet wasteful government programs in every decade reveal that efficient and caring non-government agencies far surpass similar Government efforts. These disciples had the wrong attitudes and their beliefs were overwhelmed by the bigness of the problems. But Jesus demonstrated something else. He had different attitudes and belief, and when that is matched with commitment, miracles happen! There are three great ingredients for successfully handling any problem: attitude, belief and commitment!


Positive attitudes of Jesus led to solving the problem. A positive attitude cares for people. Nothing happens until the people in power really care. “When Jesus saw the large crowd, His heart was filled with pity for them” Matthew 14:14 Jesus saw the crowd, but cared for the individuals that made up the crowd. We often dismiss big problems as simply “the hungry” or “the homeless” without considering them as individuals. You can dismiss a crowd, but not if you see them as individuals. That is what makes our work with the hungry and homeless different. I always ask people in the crowd their first name. From the time you call them by their first name, your attitude and theirs, changes. A positive attitude cares for people hungry and homeless.

A positive attitude uses what is at hand. Because they cannot do everything easily, negative people overlook the resources they already have. “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”v8-9 Barley bread was the cheapest of all bread and small sardine-like fish swarmed in the Sea of Galilee. The boy had his little pickled fish and dry barley bread. When a person uses what they have, goes ahead in faith, and helps with what he has, the resources are multiplied, others are encouraged, and more people help. Professor William Barclay says: “Jesus needs what we can bring him. It may not be much but he needs it. We may be sorry and embarrassed that we have not more to bring—and rightly so; but that is no reason for failing to bring what we have. Little is always much in the hands of Christ.”

A positive attitude breaks problems into manageable proportions. Jesus shows good management sense is needed to answer big problems. Ten thousand hungry people are a big problem, but small groups can be managed. “Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.” v10 Mark adds: “So the people sat down in rows, in groups of one hundred and groups of fifty.” 6:39 Australians cannot feed all the hungry but we can care, use the resources already at hand, and help individuals, one group at a time.

A positive attitude starts in faith. Jesus knew that successfully handling a big problem has an element of risk in it. It requires faith. “Jesus took the bread, gave thanks to God, and distributed it to the people who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, and they all had as much as they wanted.” v11 What would have happened among all the people sitting on the grass if Jesus had looked up to heaven, given thanks, and still had only five barley loaves and two fish? That was the risk He ran in faith. But great achievers are never deterred by the fear of failure. Only little people and timid politicians. What might happened for the homeless if the Federal and Sate Governments got behind all Habitat for Humanity volunteers who have already built here 30 houses for the homeless and another 400 in East Timor? We care for people, use what we have in hand, go ahead in faith, tackle the problem of homelessness house by house. It is not much, but we are building more houses for the homeless than the Government! It takes care, a willingness to use resources at hand, a tackling of the problem one house at a time, and a great deal of faith!

A positive attitude practices efficiency. Jesus adds a nice touch. He does not believe in waste or environmental mess! “When they were all full, He said to His disciples, “ Gather the pieces left over, let us not waste a bit.” So they gathered them all and filled twelve baskets with the pieces left over from the five barley loaves which the people had eaten”. v11-13 No waste. No mess. Just efficient use of resources and a careful gathering of what was left over, which could mean the start of helping others elsewhere.

A positive attitude remains true to God’s call. One final thought. Really helping others can lead them to wanting their helpers to rule over them. But Jesus was not to be deflected from His true calling, which was not to provide people with physical bread but with forgiveness and life through His spirit and sacrifice upon the Cross. They wanted to make Him king, but He was already a King of a Kingdom that was not of this world. Jesus remained true to His calling to give people the bread of life. “Seeing this miracle that Jesus had performed, the people there said, “Surely this is the Prophet who was to come into the world!”. Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize Him in order to make Him king by force; so He went off again to the hills by Himself.” v14-15

A big belief can overcome any problem. Hunger. Homelessness. These are two of the biggest. They are not overcome because people’s attitudes limit them. Other people, the makers and shakers, the innovators and instigators, overcome problems by a positive attitude. What is the difference between people who are overwhelmed and those who overcome? It is their attitude.


Wesley Mission, Sydney.