When we as individuals are confronted by the enormity of the task before us the multitudes of people still unreached by the gospel, the moral apathy of the Christian community, and the appalling poverty and violation of human rights in the global order—we are tempted to see the task as hopeless.
What can one individual do in the face of such massive problems? What possible good can be achieved by eating one less hamburger or bowl of rice per week, or by contributing a few more dollars to world evangelization? What is my pittance worth in the face of such incredible need? What can my small efforts achieve against principalities and powers?
Any plan of action can fall prey to two pitfalls: thinking that the problems are so enormous that there is little we can do, or that the achievement of global justice rests on our shoulders alone. As Dennis Shoemaker has pointed out, the first is defeatism and the second is rank arrogance.
These, of course, are the same pitfalls the Lord Jesus faced as he began his ministry in a land occupied by foreign troops and governed by corrupt leaders. What did Jesus do? He did what he could. Perhaps that seems trite; nevertheless, it accurately describes Jesus’ response.
He did what he could, starting where he was in the hill country of Galilee and utilizing the limited resources at his disposal. He could preach and teach, so he did. He could heal, so he healed thousands of people oppressed by the devil. He was also aware of what he could not do, either because it would be futile in the face of ruthless Roman legions, or because it would be contrary to the ethics of the Kingdom. So he set aside the Zealot option and refused to ally himself with the religious leadership of his day.
He knew full well his limitations, predetermined by his incarnation as a mere Jew, a member of a scorned and insignificant race within a mighty world empire. To feed five thousand, he knew, was not the same as eliminating world hunger. To heal a few sick and lame persons was not synonymous with eradicating disease. Yet he did what he could, because to do so was right and in line with the kingdom of God.