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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Unexpected Resources

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Mark 6:32-44

Jesus’ feeding the 5000 with five small loaves of bread and two small fish is one of my favorite miracles. I think it’s one of God’s favorites too, because it’s the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels.

Some, who can’t believe that God can perform miracles, attempt to offer a logical explanation for this miracle. For example, they say that a lot of people in the crowd had brought a bag lunch, and when the little boy offered his lunch they felt guilty and brought out their lunches and shared them too.

But the four Gospel writers don’t leave much room for that kind of an explanation. They tell us that the disciples were concerned that there was no food available, and had some practical solutions, like sending the people away so they could go into town and buy something to eat.

But I believe in miracles, and this is how I think it happened: Jesus had the disciples sit the people down on the grass in groups of hundreds and fifties. Then Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to Heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He divided the loaves and fish among the twelve disciples and told them to feed the people.

Now there were 5000 men plus women and children. To be very conservative, and to make the arithmetic easy, let’s assume there was a total of 6000 people to feed. With 12 disciples, each of them stood facing 500 people, with 5/12 of a barley loaf and 2/12 of a little fish. So what did they do?

I think they started giving people a couple crumbs. But as they did, they still had what they started with. Amazing! So they started giving bigger pieces, then bigger – big chunks of bread and fish – “How much do you want?” And then there was lots of noise! You know Peter had to be shouting – “Look! I can give you as much as you want and still have all I started with!” They all ate as much as they wanted, and the pieces left over filled 12 baskets! Now, that’s a miracle! But a piece of cake – or bread :) - for God.

Personal privacy, which Jesus had enjoyed for times of spiritual renewal and teaching seminars, is now virtually impossible. He now belongs to the public, and crowds will follow Him wherever He goes.

As John begins telling us about this miraculous feeding, he makes a comment that gives this occasion a deeper meaning than just feeding a bunch of people. He says, “The Jewish Passover feast was near.” As Jesus dealt with this throng of hungry people, He had to be conscious of the time and setting. The Passover celebration commemorated a past event, but it also gave hope for present and future delivery. In it, the most perfect animal available must be slain, and its blood poured out on the horns of the altar, and its flesh eaten by the family together. John the Baptist had identified Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice when he cried out, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

So Jesus welcomes this crowd of people like a father gathering his family for the Passover meal. He knows how he’ll provide for their needs. He asks Philip where they could buy bread for so many people, but, we read, “He asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do.”

As Jesus accepts the boy’s gift of bread and fish, He gives thanks. I’m sure to the boy, but more importantly, to His Heavenly Father, “Looking up to Heaven.” (Matt. 14:19)

Jesus gives sacred meaning to the daily bread on our tables. Without Him we just selfishly satisfy our appetites as we thoughtlessly gulp down our food – fast food much of the time. And then we throw out what we don’t eat, filling our garbage cans with our leftovers while two-thirds of the people in the world struggle for enough scraps to stay alive.

And that meal on the hillside was a sign foreshadowing that later eating and drinking which was to become a memorial of His sacrificial death. That “Last Supper” was to be a new covenant of His flesh and blood, offered for the world’s salvation. To those non-believers who witnessed His sacrifice, it seemed to be insignificant. But again, what seemed so little became so much.

And the feeding on the hillside could never have come to pass without the “thanks” He gave. This word, “thanks,” is translated from the Greek word, “eucharisto”. And His thanks are at the heart of His covenant with His disciples in His last supper; and centuries later we celebrate the Eucharist, giving thanks to Jesus for His sacrifice.

Jesus’ encounter with the crowd is a study in itself. Mark tells us in his Gospel account that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34) He sees the same signs in the crowd that He’s often seen in a flock of sheep which has lost its shepherd: noisy bleating, aimless wandering, and hopelessness. Jesus understands the hungers and the hazards of a crowd, and with the compassion of a shepherd He responds to them.

Without a shepherd, sheep have no direction! They’re dumb and defenseless animals. And without a leader, a crowd is like a tumbleweed, blown about by every gust of wind. Masses have a hunger for a leader to give them direction.

And crowds are dumb. When everyone talks at once, their words go unheard as if they had no voice. The masses hunger for a spokesman.

And people in crowds are also defenseless. Like an army in rout, the enemy can pick them off one at a time, or just let them run over each other. People in crowds are vulnerable. With a word from an evil shepherd, over 900 members of the Jonestown cult drank cyanide. And how many went off to meet with a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet? Or without a shepherd, hundreds are trampled to death at a soccer game or a rock concert. The milling masses need a leader.

And Jesus is the helper of the masses. He teaches them, He organizes them, He speaks for them – and He feeds them!

But He doesn’t just feed them like their ancestors received manna in the wilderness, does He? No! He says, “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16) And the replied, “We only have five loaves of bread and two fish!” (vs 17) The disciples overemphasized the problem, and underemphasized the resources, because they underestimated Jesus!

And Jesus said, “Bring the bread and fish to me.” We’re to bring what we have to Jesus, and He will bless it. You see, a little with God is more than a lot without Him!

The disciples said, “Let’s refer them to the delicatessens, the grocery stores, the supermarkets. Let’s refer them to someone who can help them.” But Jesus said to them – just as He says to us – “You feed them!”

When people come to us with their needs, let’s believe we have the resources to meet those needs. It may well be that we need to get advice, or obtain the help of an expert, but we mustn’t just pawn them off on someone else. Maybe our job is just to love them and support them, but whatever it is God will give us resources, and Jesus says, “You feed them.”

When Bobby Burns, the famous Scottish poet, was alive, he was never honored. But when he died, the world proclaimed him a genius, a great man, “a poet among us.” His mother outlived him and was invited to a great celebration to honor his memory. In the midst of the celebration she stood up and cried out, “Oh, Bobby, you asked for bread, and they gave you a stone!”

How many people do you know who are living on stones who need the bread of praise, of affirmation, of support, of gratitude. You and I have the power to turn those stones into bread! “You feed them,” Jesus says.

Reviewing this event, we can summarize it in four points:

1) The promise – the crowd doesn’t need to leave.

2) The Commission – you give them something to eat.

3) The Power – bring them to me, and

4) The provision – they all ate and were filled, and there were twelve basketfuls left over.

This was the climax of popularity for Jesus, and for the people’s desire to make Him king. What an irony that they thought they could pressure the one who is already king into being a king on their terms. But Jesus wasn’t a bread-king. He came to call people to a radical, costly discipleship, not to a kingdom of bread. He will be king only to those who enter by the narrow door of spiritual surrender.

I assume Jesus is your Savior. Is He your King? If not, today is the day to surrender to Him, and discover His unexpected resources.


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