Circling back around to Jesus feeding of the 5000. I came across something in my reading this week that opened my eyes to a way of looking at this miracle I had never considered. It’s nothing new, since what I read was written in 1975 by William Barclay. But it is new to me, so I’m going to share it with you.
I’m going to get right into the sharing and distribution of the food here. I’ve looked at the background of this story before and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but I’m really just interested today in the meal.
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.” “You feed them“. Now there’s a command for the ages. But seriously, look at the disciples response to the command from Jesus – “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” That sounds so much like us today, doesn’t it? Hungry people all around us, and we are worried about what it’s all going to cost us. We worry about the change in our pockets more than the rumblings in other people’s bellies. Jesus simply asks “How much bread do you have?” And we know the answer instinctively by now, don’t we? “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.” See, here’s where I think this gets interesting. This miracle is shared in all four Gospels (and it’s the only miracle of Jesus that appears in all four). But only John tells us where these five loaves and two fish come from – “Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” John 6:8-9 NLT.
Think about this – there are 5000 men here. But there are also families with them, women and children. It’s been estimated that as many as 25,000 would have been the actual number of people here. They live in a completely different culture than we do, there is no McDs or Subway on every corner. Even so, when I go on a field trip with my kids, normally we bring a lunch. This has struck me before, how there is just no way that this kid is the only one with any food here. But here’s the thing – he is the only one, out of all those people who was willing to share what he had.
So here is the new-to-me thought on this miracle of Christ – there were five thousand men along with an unknown number of women and children, all of whom were getting hungry. And all of whom were completely selfish. Most, if not all, of these people had something with them to eat. You wouldn’t have gone that far from home without lunch in your pack. There is no Wawa to get a steak n cheese from. Packing a lunch, and carrying it with you, is what you did. So here we see thousands of people sitting around hungry, and except for one heroic young boy they all chose to stay hungry instead of pull out their lunch for fear of having to share it with someone. So the twelve laid out what this young boy gave, Jesus blessed the food, and then thousands more were moved to produce what they had been hiding all along. And of course, there was more than enough for everyone.
So we could then look at this as a miracle which turned selfish, suspicious people into generous people. It was a miracle of Jesus which made men go from self-interested to being willing to share, which turned out to be in their self interest anyway. 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.
I’ve got to say this – I believe this view works very well with the overall theme of the gospel. From the very call of Peter, Jesus is talking about making us into something different – “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”” Mark 1:17 ESV. And to this day, when Jesus calls, he is making us into something different than we are. Viewed as a miracle of selfish men turned generous plays very well into what Jesus might want to do in our lives, doesn’t it?
God made a world which is bountiful. Whether you live in America like me, or you live in China, Kenya, Romania, Australia, India, any country in the world, I’m going to guess that if you are reading what I write, you have plenty to eat. Our world is more than capable of feeding all its inhabitants. If you are a gardener, and you put seed in the ground, do you not have to prune away even excess growth to make it grow better? Even that small seed produces more than we can handle.
Yet we see hunger in our world. I drive by hungry people all the time, and still get angry that they are asking me for my money. Food banks all around us try to feed hungry families locally, but we ignore them because we are afraid we might have to share some of what we have. We all see the ads on TV designed to tug at our hard hearts asking us to give so those hungry children can eat. Our world has more than enough food. The problem here is not one of supply. Just like Jesus miracle in feeding those 5000, if we would be willing to share some of what we have there is more than enough to go around.
I’ve seen statistics on food thrown away simply off of cruise ships each year. It is enormous, counted in thousand of tons. Restaurants, stadiums, even grocery stores. The Food Lion in my neighborhood recently changed over to a Weiss Markets, and many items in the store would no longer be carried. I know the Farming for Hunger organization was contacted to see if they could take some of the frozen food. I think they could take some, but simply couldn’t store most of it.
Clearly we have enough, right now, to eradicate hunger on our planet. The trouble, it seems to me, is mostly in the delivery. Food is, by nature, perishable, so it is difficult to get from point A to point B before it spoils. But it’s also a heart problem. Local food pantries, local soup kitchens, can’t feed all who come. We walk and drive by hungry people every day without sharing the time and resources it would take to make them…not hungry.
Obviously, this is a problem that’s always been. But does it always have to be. I think, seen in this light of selfish hearts turned generous, the miracle of the five thousand has some big lessons for us in the 21st century. Jesus commands his disciple here – “You feed them.” What would He tell us?
Hungry families in Calvert County? “You feed them.”
Homeless people in SE DC? “You feed them.”
Hungry, impoverished children across America? “You feed them.”
Children starving to death in Ethiopia and across the African continent? “You feed them.”
It all started with a young boy who was willing to share. We still talk about it 2000 years later…
“The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 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.”
Mark 6:30-44 NLT