Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So, they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. (New Living Translation)
I once knew a dear church lady who made a pan of lasagna for a local soup kitchen. When she showed up, it turned out, other church ladies didn’t. Hers was to be one pan amongst many. Instead, it was the only one. When a long line formed of hungry impoverished people, she felt both compassion and heartsick. Her immediate thought was to go and buy several pans of lasagna. But she knew it would take too long, and she wasn’t even sure she could find enough to feed everyone.
So, rather than turning the people away, the dear woman looked up to heaven, uttered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for what little she had, and began serving. She said, “I just kept sticking my spatula into the pan, and lasagna kept coming out. By the time the last person in line came, I served the last of it. I can’t explain it. It just happened.”
No one left hungry.
Today’s Gospel lesson of Jesus feeding the five thousand men and their families is not just a nice account of something that happened a long time ago. Jesus is still doing miracles. The Lord is still expanding his benevolent reach all across God’s big world.
Jesus takes our meager resources and turns them into something with a large impact on a lot of people. For this to happen, all we need to do is follow our Lord’s simple instructions: “You feed them.”
“But Jesus! I don’t have much money. I’m not a good organizer. I can’t do what you’re asking!”
“I don’t…” “I’m not…” “I can’t…” Jesus hears it every day.
Jesus really doesn’t want to hear about our “buts.” Maybe we ought to take the word “but” out of our language altogether. That’s because it’s not about us, at all.
Jesus can multiply whatever little we have to accomplish his benevolent work through us.
Jesus could clearly do miracles without us having any involvement. Yet, he deliberately chooses to use us and our drop-in-the-bucket resources to participate in his work. Jesus wants to use our minds, our mouths, and the very marrow of our being to effect a miracle.
Our work is to bring Jesus our five small loaves and two fish. He’ll do the rest.
It is the compassion of Jesus which motivates him to miracles.
The crowd did not leave him alone. Rather than being annoyed by the situation because it was not on his agenda to deal with any people, Jesus looked at the large group of people and had compassion on them. His heart went out to them.
God does not begrudgingly deal with us, as if we are an interruption to his day.
All these hungry people. What to do about it? “You feed them,” Jesus says. I perhaps detect a hint of sarcasm in the tone of the disciples reply: “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish.” Their math was way off because they did not count Jesus.
Through simple prayer and active obedience, we must give Jesus what we have, no matter how little or insignificant.
In this contemporary era, much of what we do is concerned to be reasonable and rational with a strong scientific or proven base for engaging ministry. Although I don’t have much of a stomach for believers who incessantly want a miracle for everything and see devils under every rock, I equally have no stomach for doing ministry as if it were an Enlightenment project, completely drained of all faith and the possibility of seeing God work in ways that are incomprehensible to our modern sensibilities.
Indeed, looking out at all the vast Western resources have accomplished with money and buildings and programs, it makes me want to explain, “This is amazing! It is incredible what we know-how American Christians can do without God!”
I am curious what Christ’s Church would look like if we were to have an underlying presupposition and assumption that God is still in the business of doing miracles? I wonder: Would it impact the way we pray, and the way we act?
What if we altogether forsook shame and had the boldness to say, “This might sound crazy, but what if we…”
- “Found everyone in our city who needs food and go love on them and feed them” (instead of just going the rational route of only supplying the food pantry).
- “Used our property to create a community garden and seek to help people grow their own food.” (instead of just giving out some food cards).
- “Built a smart robot to plant the fields of disabled farmers and gave them the rights to the tech we developed.” (am I getting too crazy yet!?).
In the kingdom of God, there are no boundaries – only unlimited opportunities to give our small ideas, little bits of strength, and puny resources to Jesus so that he can take it and feed the world.
Jesus is perfectly able to do his work without us and without what we have. However, he wants to use us and our meager resources to accomplish the miraculous meeting of needs far beyond what we could ever imagine.
We too often do nothing. That’s because we mistakenly believe God either cannot or does not want to use me or what I have.
It just won’t do to stand afar off and expect God to work without us giving what we have, whether that something is time, money, conversation, food, hospitality, or whatever. Our excuses won’t do for Jesus – my home is too small, it is not clean enough, I don’t have enough money, I am not smart enough, my schedule won’t allow it, I don’t have enough resources…. All you need is something, no matter how seemingly insignificant it is.
You want me to do what? Feed thousands? The real pre-miracle work for many people is to be open, real, and transparent enough to believe Christ can do a miracle through confessing sin, participating in a ministry, having a spiritual conversation with somebody different than me, or just saying what I actually think and feel.
The question is never, “Can God use me?” The real question is, “What miracle does Jesus want to do through me and through his Church?”
It was no accident when Jesus distributed the bread that it sounds a lot like communion.
The Lord’s Supper may seem to be irrelevant to some – as if it is only a way to remember Jesus, a mere regular ritual. Yet, God’s design is much bigger. Jesus wants to do a miracle through the distribution and ingestion of the common elements of bread and wine – a miracle of healing, a miracle of bringing true satisfaction the world can never give.
It isn’t realistic to expect that Jesus can use the Table to feed and reach thousands. However, we don’t serve a God who is limited to work through rational means by only using our five senses.
We serve a God who does unexpected miracles within the life of the community.
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief! I open my mind and heart believing in your infinite power and possibility. I believe in your constant expression of perfect good in and through me. I know that with you all things are possible. All that I am, all I was, and all I hope to be I give to you. I am yours. Amen.
*Above painting: Feeding of the 5,000 by Laura James
**Above: Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of Christ feeding the 5,000