Introduction. Read Matthew15 29-39

This often overlooked passage deals with four important aspects of Jesus' ministry not least the time he gave to the Gentiles.

(1) Caring for the outsider.

Jesus spent quite a long time with his disciples in Phoenicia. When the Master fed the 5000 the crowd sat down on the green grass. See Mk6v39. So it was spring time before the summer drought had withered the grass. According to Mark, after the healing of the Canaanite woman's daughter, Jesus travelled from Tyre in the south to Sidon in the north of Phoenicia before heading south again by an unknown route to the sea of Galilee. From there he and the disciples walked S.E.into Decapolis so named after the ten settlements of Greeks in the region. It was a predominantly Gentile area. By the time of the feeding of the 4000 in Decapolis the grass had withered in the summer drought and the crowd sat on the bare ground for their meal. See Mk8v6. So it seems likely that Jesus was in Gentile territory from about April to August - 4 or 5 months. During that time he would have had many contacts with Gentiles.

It is likely that many of the maimed, blind, crippled and mute that Jesus healed in Decapolis were Gentile. This might explain why Matthew records that the people praised the God of Israel. Mt15v31. Jews would just have praised God.

So, it seems evident that notwithstanding the prejudices of the disciples, Jesus spent several months ministering to the Gentiles. That is why I believe Jesus was speaking ironically to the disciples when he said before healing the Canaanite woman's daughter, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Mt15v24.

Jesus' interest has never been confined to any particular race, ethnic group, class or caste. Indeed, it is often those who are most discriminated against and oppressed that find comfort, consolation and cheer in Christ. Many Gentile slaves became Christians in the Roman Empire. Many centuries later black slaves in the South of the U.S.A. confessed Christ and acquired the status of sons of God. In India it is no coincidence that most converts to Christianity are members of the lowest caste.

Jesus has no truck with caste or class. As the great apostle Paul writes to the Galatians: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal3v28. We are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Gal3v26. HALLELUJAH!

(2) Transforming lives.

It is wonderful to read of Jesus healing the maimed, the lame, the blind and the dumb. See Mt15v30. The bystanders were amazed at the transformation in these people. And they praised the God of Israel. Mt15v31.

It is certainly transforming to be healed of lameness. In my country today there are people crippled by arthritis. I had a visit from an old pupil recently who was virtually housebound by two arthritic hips. She found it difficult to do household chores and had to take opiates to get some sleep. Her life was changed immeasurably for the better when a surgeon gave her two new hip joints. She was free again to walk, garden, drive and shop.

Blindness is another affliction that imposes great limits on freedom. I have an old friend who has gradually lost her sight and the ability to care for herself. She cannot read the Bible for comfort, the papers for news or her correspondence for vital information. Jesse cannot see the flowers in her garden, watch her favourite TV program, cook her splendid steak and kidney puddings or enjoy my smile of pleasure when I visit. Her life would be improved enormously if she could see again.

Today, Jesus still transforms lives. He does so by giving his Spirit to all those who trust in him. Willy our village baker was a man I had known from childhood. He was a decent, caring, hard-working and friendly man. Some would say he was all a Christian should be. But Willy was not a Christian. His attendance at church was highly irregular and his allegiance to Jesus at best lukewarm. Our pastor's wife led Willy to Christ after his wife's death. Willy was a changed man. The Holy Spirit gave him an interest in God's word, an understanding of Jesus' teaching, a love for other Christians, a joy in service and an enthusiasm for worship.

Willy knew the experienced the truth of George W.Robinson's hymn:

          Heaven above is softer blue,
          Earth around is sweeter green;
          Something lives in every hue
          Christless eyes have never seen;
          Birds with gladder songs o'erflow,
          Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
          Since I know as now I know,
          I am his and he is mine.

(3) Meeting material needs.

Jesus said to his disciples: "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me 3 days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away, or they may collapse on the way."

We can underestimate the importance of hospitality - of sharing a meal together. Jesus put himself out for the crowd who had been with him for three days in an isolated and largely uninhabited spot. It was no easy task to feed 4000 men as well as women and children. Jesus had to multiply 7 loaves and 2 small fish and then get his disciples to distribute it to the crowd.

It is significant the trouble Jesus went to in order to eat with his disciples. He was determined to have one last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion - hence the Lord's Supper. Then there is that lovely story in John's gospel of Jesus cooking breakfast for seven of his disciples on the shore of Galilee after his resurrection. Jesus himself served them a tasty breakfast.

This being the case we should not disparage the value of providing a meal for our Christian. I have used this illustration before - but I think it is worth using again:

One late summer's morning I got up very, very, early and drove over to Athlington Hall in North Suffolk to meet up with Terry Harsant. We were going to drive Mr Haver's lorry down to Sussex in Southern England to pick up the camping equipment at the conclusion of Pioneer Camp - the Christian camp we both supported. We arrived on the eerily silent camp site about 8am. None of the rear guard was up. None of the equipment was ready to load onto the lorry. It took us all day to clear up and load the lorry. We set off back to Suffolk at about 6pm in a very gloomy frame of mind. We knew that at the end of the long journey we would have to unload the lorry. As we approached Athlington Hall we were dog-tired and very dejected. However we need not have been. Tom Havers had a work party waiting for us. He whisked us a way to the farmhouse kitchen where, in spite of the late hour, many, many good things were laid out on a huge table. We had not been forgotten. The food put new heart into us. Our spirits lifted. The Christian fellowship around that table was sweet. As at length I left to travel home the farm was bathed in silvery light from a full moon. My heart was as full as that moon as I just thanked God for remembering his servants and for lavishing such good things upon us.

Many years ago I used to preach several times a year at Walsham le Willows Congregational Church. On every occasion Mr and Mrs Loveck entertained me for lunch. The meal was always the same: boiled potatoes, pickles and slices of magnificent, cold beef. How I enjoyed that simple meal - especially as Mr and Mrs Loveck were so pleased to have fellowship with me. They loved my preaching. How things have changed!!

One sunny day when I was serving as sports organiser at Pioneer Camp I remained on the site while the campers went off for a day at the seaside. I was left behind with Freda the cook - Freda, who like the Lovecks, loved me a little and enjoyed my preaching. So, she took the opportunity on this rare occasion when we were alone together of frying me a superb, huge, flaky, fillet of cod - such a fillet I have neither had before nor since.

These incidents, and it does me good to remember them, are a reminder that Jesus did not produce just enough food for the crowd. There were seven big, open baskets full left over. It is always better to prepare too much than have some go home hungry and disappointed.

(4) Involving his disciples.

The disciples distributed the food Jesus made. They played their part in satisfying the people's hunger.

It is the same today. Jesus has made provision for the salvation of sinners. He offered himself to God to atone for our sin and God graciously accepted the sacrifice Jesus became on the cross. Jesus became through his sacrifice and God's grace the Bread of Life.

It is up to us, with help from the Holy Spirit, to convey this news to our friends, family and neighbours; to encourage them to feast on the Living Bread.

Just a short postscript: Jesus neither approved of litter nor waste. He doubtless encouraged his disciples to pick up all the broken pieces of bread and fish left over. I expect Jesus, his disciples and others who followed him about, ate those left overs for a day or two. The salted fish would not have gone off! Jesus was opposed to wastefulness. We put too much uneaten food in our dustbins. Some folk are obsessed with the, 'Best Before Date'