You’re sitting on the couch watching the evening news report of a devastating natural disaster overseas. Tens of thousands of hungry, exhausted, injured people have been displaced from their homes. Video footage depicts them walking for miles, carrying their children, desperately searching for food and clean water. They’ve left behind their homes, their possessions and in some cases their dead loved ones. Social safety nets that we take for granted in the developed world don’t exist now in their world.
The news anchors in the television studio comment on how tragic it is for the thousands and thousands who, by the unfortunate accident of where they happen to live, are now stripped of all their possessions and forced to start over, trying to meet their basic human needs. The report numbs you. It hardly begins to cross your mind that you wish you could do something to help those people. But of course you can’t—not in the face of such overwhelming devastation.
Then it’s dinnertime, which you enjoy with your family. You chat about your day and work on coordinating your schedules for the busy upcoming weekend. You never think about the news report again, and the images of innumerable human faces lined with intense suffering fade from your memory. You would never say so, but the forgetfulness is welcome.
We see seemingly insurmountable problems and think we are unable to make a true difference. After all if it were even possible to make a difference, surely someone else with more brains, money and time would do so. But are we truly so powerless? Do we so quickly forget who our all-powerful Father is?
The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle performed by Jesus Christ that all four gospel writers recorded (Matthew 14:13 Matthew 14:13When Jesus heard of it, he departed there by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
American King James Version×;21, Mark 6:31 Mark 6:31And he said to them, Come you yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.
American King James Version×- 44, Luke 9:10-17 Luke 9:10-17 10 And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. 12 And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said to him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. 13 But he said to them, Give you them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people. 14 For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down. 16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and broke, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. 17 And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.
American King James Version×and John 6:5-15 John 6:5-15 5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come to him, he said to Philip, From where shall we buy bread, that these may eat? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 There is a lad here, which has five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 10 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. 11 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. 12 When they were filled, he said to his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above to them that had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. 15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
American King James Version×). The multitudes had been following Christ, listening to His teaching and receiving His healing. The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the many thousands to go find food, but Christ wanted the disciples to take care of the people themselves. Given the circumstances, the task was impossible. There was no way to quickly purchase food for the five thousand men plus thousands more women and children who had gathered, and the disciples quite reasonably said so. “But He [Christ] said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go and see’” (Mark 6:38 Mark 6:38He said to them, How many loaves have you? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.
American King James Version×). In John 6:8-9 John 6:8-9 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 There is a lad here, which has five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
American King James Version×we read that a boy responded by offering his five barley loaves and two small fish to the disciples. Understandably the disciples commented, “What are they among so many?” This small amount of food was woefully inadequate for the situation. However Jesus multiplied the offering, abundantly meeting the needs of the people.
What can we learn from this youth who responded to the disciple’s call for resources and themiracle Christ performed with such meager supplies?
1. Freely give what you have to God. We are stewards, not owners, of all that is in our control (including our time, talent and treasure). Surely others had food on that day in the Palestinian countryside. But when the disciples searched for resources upon Christ’s request to do the impossible, it was this boy who responded. He gave all he had and was thereby given the most excellent blessing of seeing God multiply his small offering to meet a staggering need. God could have had Jesus Christ turn stones into bread for the multitude, but instead He delighted in taking an offering and multiplying it for the benefit of the giver.
God will have His work accomplished, but He wants to do it through us.
2. Trust God to meet the need. We do not measure our own resources
against the problem—we measure God’s resources against the problem.
Christ did not ask about the magnitude of the problem or the lack of resources—He asked, “What do you have to offer?” What looked vastly insufficient to human eyes became more than enough in God’s hands. Our human contribution to God’s work is marginal at best—even the contributions from the wealthiest, the most talented or even the most righteous among men. But God can take our offering—be it our time, talent or treasure—and multiply it to meet the need. It is only when we face a task impossible by human standards that we can stand aside and let God perform a miracle. So rejoice in impossible problems—you will see the hand of God!
“I am weak and can do noth- ing” is not true humility. Too often that approach is actually a convenient cop-out that serves our laziness or selfishness. We shirk our duty yet manage to pacify our conscience. “I only have five loaves and two fish— they won’t even make a dent in this overwhelming need, so I shouldn’t even bother…” Or more commonly today, howabout, “I’m only a minimally talented musician, or speaker, or dinner host, or organizer, or conversation starter, or ______, so I won’t even bother trying to serve—someone else can do it, and they’ll do it better than I could anyway.”
True humility is knowing that on our own we are weak and can do nothing, but that through God, we can do anything He desires for us to do. And we will do anything He desires for us to do because in humility we will put all of our selfish cares behind us in order to serve God and our fellow man.
3. Reap such blessings that there is not room enough to receive them.
Not only did all the people following Jesus that day eat but there were twelve baskets of scraps taken up after the meal! What if the boy hadn’t offered up his meal? Perhaps he would have secreted away and quickly filled his belly, feeling vaguely uncomfortable and guilty. But instead of eating it all himself, he gave what he had to help oth- ers with no expectation of return. His offering, which in his hands could only have met the needs of a few, was then used by Christ to fill the needs of thousands of hungry people. Not only that, he also had the honor of being part of Jesus Christ’s miraculous care of the people.
Though others likely had food that day, they probably figured they didn’t have enough, so they didn’t give anything at all. One boy gave what little he had, and God made it more than enough. What overwhelming needs do you see around you—in your family, your community and your world? What resources do you have that you can put in God’s able hands? What miraculous impact could come about because of your small offering? Our meager resources will never yield more when we clutch them tightly to our chest—instead they will wilt, wither and even poison us with anxiety. But the same God-given resources have infinite potential to help others if handed freely back to God. If we generously sow our time, talent and treasure, we will reap a bountiful harvest of blessing for ourselves and for others.