Not Much To Work With
When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. (John 6:4-13)
This story is so incredible, and so hard to believe that I wonder how many who read the story really stop and think about it. I also wonder how many really believe it. I have heard some people speculate that what happened was that when the little boy was willing to sacrifice his food, the others, out of embarrassment pulled out the food they had been hiding. When I hear explanations like that I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
It's laughable because it is so typical of human nature to try and explain away the miraculous. People have to find some natural explanation that fits their limited view of reality. They just can't seem to accept that miracles are possible. Maybe because they have never experienced the miraculous, they assume no one else could have either.
It's also sad, because it is the same old thing of worshiping man rather than man's Creator. By making the claim that the food came from the people themselves, it reflects the attitude that man does all the work and God just inspires us. This story is about the wonder of God's power. It's not about the people, and really, it's not about food either.
One thing that strikes me about this was that a small amount of food was given to Jesus. If Jesus was going to feed all those people with a miracle, why did He even ask if there was food around? Certainly, He could have just materialized some food, right? He didn't need the food that was given so what was the point? The best understanding I can get is that this is symbolic of how we are to relate to our Savior.
Each of us has been given some talent or gift. It may be wealth, or knowledge, or the ability to speak or sing, or maybe just our unique personality. Whatever the talent is, if we think about it honestly, it isn't very much compared with the infinite wealth and knowledge of our Creator. What little we have is by comparison to God's nature, very little indeed. It's not much to work with.
Nevertheless, we are asked to take that small amount we have and give it over to Jesus. Obviously, it isn't because the Lord needs what we have. It is a kind of test to see where we will put our trust. As the Bible puts it, "And this he said to prove him." Will we trust our small, limited understanding and ability, or will we trust in the Lord's understanding and ability and thus willingly let go of what is in our hand?
When we do give up the small thing that we have, the Lord has the ability to multiply it many times over. In this story, He took an insignificant amount of food and fed a multitude with nothing more than His word. Think then of what might happen if you took the small talent you have and totally dedicated it to Jesus. We often think that the small talents and gifts we have are of no significance. But when even that small amount is given to Jesus, it is enough. No one should think that his talent, no matter how small, is of no use. Likewise, no one should think that their exceptional talent for something makes them of greater use to the Lord. The Lord is looking for our faith, our trust, in Him. He can then take whatever we bring to Him and make it useful to His kingdom. A large talent that is held back is of less value than a small talent dedicated to His use.
Even more incredible than the Lord's ability to multiply our small gifts is what we are left with afterward. Notice how after everyone had been fed there was more left over than what they started with! This goes against all human ways of thinking about things. We assume that if we give up what we have, then maybe some use will come of it, but it will be consumed in its use and we will have nothing. How many of us expect to have more left after we give all? This is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. We may come to the point where we will give up all, but that is not the end of it. We must also learn to accept back the manifold blessing that the Lord wants to give to those who trust Him. I should add, that blessing may not be what we expect. In my experience, it is usually much better than what I could have asked for. It is truly amazing how the Lord responds to our willingness to turn it all over to Him.
This story of the loaves and fishes is told in all the gospel records, but I like the one here in John. It's the one that says the loaves and fishes were from a young boy. I think that adds a special understanding to the message, and is why I chose that one. It was a child who came to Jesus and offered His food. Think about that.
You know how children are, how they don't value things the same way adults do. Before they learn to put money values on things, they see things in terms of how much it is desired by them. The attitude of the disciples was that it's silly for someone to offer such a small amount of food. Andrew says in regard to the loaves and fishes, "but what are they among so many?" He was looking at things from an "adult" view. The gospel story doesn't have the boy say anything, but I can just imagine his attitude. They needed food, he had some, so he gave it to the adults who asked. That's the incredible child-like faith that Jesus praised and that we should all strive for.
And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)