The miraculous “Feeding of the Five Thousand” is recounted in all the gospels. Why is that? It’s like something that has been highlighted, underlined, memorised and stuck on a Meme.
Maybe God is saying: This, THIS, is something you just have to remember about Jesus.
So let’s listen to Luke’s account, and ask God to speak to us afresh. Perhaps we’ll get it this time!
“12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’
13 He replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’
They answered, ‘We have only five loaves of bread and two fish – unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.’ 14 (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.”
The first surprising note is the little sentence,“You give them something to eat.” It’s such a pointed challenge, isn’t it? John’s account (in John 6:6) tells us that Jesus was testing them and knew exactly what he was going to do.
And the actual mechanics of the food-supply is not really referred to! The miracle itself is almost passed over. The focus is not on the spectacular nature of the miracle, but on what it teaches those who serve Jesus about how he meets the needs of others through them.
And that’s us!
And that’s the point. Here it is, loud and clear: Jesus will give us all we need to meet the needs of the people around us, so long as we recognise our own inadequacy and trust in him.
Remember, this story follows the account of the first mission trip. The disiples have just returned and this present occasion emerges out of a debriefing session. Now more than ever they will realise just how “hungry ” people are, but perhaps they don’t yet realise how unable to help they themselves are!
So here’s the three “characters” in the story: the hungry crowd; the inadequate disciples and the all-sufficient Christ.
1.The People are hungry
If you had taken a survey of the crowd, many would have said that their greatest need was for physical healing. There were blind, deaf, lame, diseased and dying people there. By the end of the day, others would have said that their greatest need was for food. There was nothing to eat in that “desolate place.” But whether anyone recognized it or not, each person’s greatest need was spiritual. Jesus could heal their bodies and fill their stomachs, but that was only a stopgap measure if they perished in their sins. So Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God (Luke 9:11).
And the truth is that sin has taken a terrible toll on the human race. Often the problems people encounter can be the entry point for us to minister to them, not only physically or emotionally, but also spiritually, which is their greatest need. But that’s where we encounter our own problem. It is that:
2. We don’t have enough to manage
Did you notice the contrast between Jesus’ attitude toward the crowd and that of the disciples? Jesus welcomed them (9:11), but the disciples said to Jesus, “Send the multitude away” (9:12). Practical… or knackered?
Then the line: “You give them something to eat” (9:13). Whaat? There were 5,000 men, plus women and children. If there were 2.5 children for each man and woman, we’re talking about providing dinner for a crowd bigger than Bandon!
All the food the disciples could come up with was five loaves and two fish, which came from a little boy (John 6:9). It’s a pathetic reminder of the best we can do.
But how did Jesus do it? He used the disciples to distribute the bread and fish to the people. This is how you share grace. This is how you meet needs. Low and slow. By going people to people (and not Project or Programme to people). Christ meets the needs of people through people. But what kind of people does he use? Only inadequate people! (“The rich he has sent empty away.”)
How do we do it? By yielding our littleness to the Master to use as He pleases. Five small loaves and two fish, a boy’s lunch—not much to feed such a crowd. Matthew records Jesus as saying, “Bring them here to Me!” That’s the key! Give your inadequate resources and abilities to Jesus. The insufficient becomes more than sufficient when surrendered to Christ!
3. Jesus can do it
We think we have nothing to offer, but the truth was we do have something – it’s just that it is inadequate. Jesus doesn’t ask you to give Him what you don’t have. He asks you to give Him what you do have.
We need to yield ourselves to Him and let Him do as He sees fit. What Jesus did with this boy’s lunch is what He does with us when we give Him our inadequate abilities and resources.
D.L.Moody “I have only one talent; I have no education, but I love the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to do something for Him. Pray for me.” Henry Varley, a good friend of Moody’s in the early days of his work, once said to Moody, “It remains to be seen what God will do with a man who gives himself up wholly to Him.” Moody thought about that and said, “By God’s grace, I will be that man.”
Blessed, broken, given. You are the bread for the life of the world. It’s enough.