When I was growing up as a son of a pastor, I would usually go with my father visiting rural churches as they celebrated their anniversaries.
In those celebrations, food would be served. I can still see those tables filled with an assortment of food. After listening to a long sermon, we would gather around the table to eat. It was a whole day of eating and sharing stories. When the day was over, each one would take some of the leftover food, wrap it in banana leaves, and bring it home.
Today I think we still do that. When we have potlucks, we bring home the leftovers, using plastic bags.
The feeding of the 5,000 is no different. Just another potluck, only a little bigger with 5,000 people. No one announced it ahead of time that “on a certain place at 4 in the afternoon, we will gather together with Jesus to eat.”
No one even organized it the way our church would do it. The whole thing was impromptu.
But there they were, enthralled as they listened to Jesus.
Then their stomachs started grumbling. The disciples went to Jesus, and told him that it was time to send the people home. Instead, Jesus said, “Let’s feed them.”
You see, our religion is not merely a spiritual, but a physical matter as well. That is why when we have church gatherings, we have food.
Our faith is not in a God who remains mysterious in some heaven we can’t see. Our faith is in a God who became man, who got hungry and thirsty.
So when Jesus saw the crowd, he took compassion.
But the compassionate thing to do is not always the practical thing to do. The practical thing is to send the people away.
So the disciples did the only thing left for them to do: they met and reported to Jesus. “We have looked at the budget, taken a tally, and concluded there’s not enough here to feed all these people. Even if we have food delivered, the closest fried chicken place is 10 miles away. Not even Mang Inasal or City Burger can handle a crowd like this. Let’s send them home.”
Well, Jesus didn’t even put it to a vote. “You can do better than that. Work with what you’ve got,” he said. No matter how poor you think your resources are. No matter how deep the trouble, Christ turns to you and asks, “How many loaves have you?”
He was saying, “Bring them to me, and let’s see if together, you and I might be able to feed those people.”
So they brought the loaves and the fish from a boy. Jesus blessed them and gave them back to his disciples! Now, you give these to the people. They did; and all the people were fed with lots of leftover.
The disciples must have been utterly amazed at what happened. “What is the meaning of this?” they must have said to one another. “With what we gave him, the Master fed all those people. Of the very little we gave, somehow much was made.”
He says to the disciples, “Work with what you’ve got. And placed in God’s hands, we can accomplish great things.”
Today, we know we have a lot of church programs to support. So far, we do not have enough resources to finance our budget. But we have faith that with you and with God, we can accomplish greater things.
Of course, Christ is not interested in budgets. He is interested in people growing in the faith and trusting in his power. Budgets are only a barometer of how people are growing in the faith and trusting in his power.
Jesus was letting his disciples know that he and they were in partnership. He is reminding us now that God involves his people in working together with him to get things done in the world.
In a partnership each brings to it what he has, each commits his or her resources to a common purpose. On this partnership, our God for the purpose of redeeming the world has sent his Son. And so he invites all of us to bring what we have, our loaves and our fish, placing them in his hands, committing them to this same purpose, entering into partnership with him.
It is not an empty phrase when the Apostle Paul wrote that we are “workers together with him.” (2 Corinthians 6:1) It is a phrase packed with enormous and specific content. For you see, the people of God are partners with the Eternal.
The plain fact is, of course, that wherever God has done things in the world, somebody has been there helping God do them. Yes, perhaps Jesus could have fed that multitude without the five loaves and two fish which the disciples brought to him, but he did not. He let his disciples help, and he used what they brought.
A 42-year-old president of a successful computer software company has a sign on his desk that reads, “Never promise them pie in the sky until you see the bakery truck coming down the street.” That sign is too safe for Jesus who is a risk taker. He is always ahead of us, calling us forward, challenging us to be more than we think we can, by the grace of God.
Or perhaps, he gives us such outlandish promises because he can, in fact, see the bakery truck way out in the distance. Because he knows the power of the almighty God when it is unleashed in the midst of a giving people, he can assure us that greater things can be accomplished.
“How many have you?” says the Lord. “Not many” is our reply. “More than you think,” says Jesus. “You provide the bread; let me take care of the miracle.”
Perhaps William Barclay is right when he said that the focus of this story should not be on the loaves and the fishes, but on the hearts and souls of the people gathered. Perhaps the focus should not be on the miracle of the physical multiplication of loaves, but the miracle of making people more generous.
There was once a missionary who worked in the gold-mining communities of Baguio. He led many worship services in little huts. One Sunday he went up into a little hut only to find it packed with people. It was communion Sunday. In the front was a little table covered to the floor with white cloth. On it were a little piece of bread and a tiny paper cup filled with grape juice. He wondered whether these elements would be enough for this large group huddled together. But he forged ahead. He said the words over the bread, and passed it around.
Somehow, miraculously, a small piece of it came back. Then he took the little cup in his hand as he had held that silver chalice many times in his church and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Drink ye all of it.” He passed it around. It made it through the first two rows and came back. It was set on the table in front of him, empty.
They looked at him, smiling, as if to say, “Produce some more now.” He looked about frantically for a bottle of grape juice. There was none in sight.
He prayed, “Lord, help me” and suddenly a little brown arm came up from under the table and snatched the cup off. The missionary smiled at the people nervously, and then pulled up the cloth, only to see a man with a pitcher of grape juice! Dropping the cloth quickly, the missionary looked back at the crowd smiling confidently.
Pretty soon, an arm came up and placed a full cup of grape juice on top of the table. And off they went with the rest of the service. “You provide the bread; let me take care of the miracle.”
What little thing can you do — a word of hope? A helping hand? Though it may seem useless to you against the vast needs of the world, do it. Whatever the deed, God will bless it and spread it.
Thus, the scientist brings his labored search, and God gives the flash that leads to new discovery. Thus, the writer brings his pen and seeming poverty of thought and suddenly, the inspiration. Thus, the saint brings ” his or her own humble life and the world is somehow changed.”
Thus, we present a budget today, and the saints of God are empowered to give. Workers together with God! This is who we are — in every kind word we can say, every thoughtful deed we can do, in every warm handclasp we can offer, in every glory we can share, in every healing touch we can bring to the hurt of another — partners with the Eternal. We provide the bread and God will do wonders with it.