Besides the resurrection, I bet you don’t know which of Jesus’ miracles made it into all four gospels!
OK, my title gave it away, but would you have guessed it if I had called it “Jewish Boy Loses His Lunch” or “Give All You Got and Get More Than You Had” or something of that sort?
So, why did the Spirit single out this particular miracle of feeding the multitude from a little boy’s lunch for so much press? The incident definitely infers a lot about Jesus and what he can do. That’s the customary Sunday School lesson from this text. The Christological and supernatural implications aside, I’d like to narrow this particular conversation down to his choice to use the human agency in that particular miracle.
We all know what an astonishing thing Jesus did that day to feed all those hungry people. But notice the path the food took from lunch pail to thousands of growling stomachs. It started with a kid who gave up his lunch to Andrew, from Andrew to Jesus, from Jesus to the twelve, and from the twelve to the twelve thousand.
“Send them away!” . . . “You give them something to eat!”
After a day of sermonizing to as many as 12,000 (5,000 men plus women and children) lunchtime had long since passed. The Jesus team urged him to send the people away and let them fend for themselves. His refusal to do so might have had something to do with the socio-economic scarcity of a number of his crowd that day. Maybe they were unable to get home in time to get food on the table or maybe they were unwilling to leave Jesus. Maybe it wasn’t just a matter of convenience, like when a meeting goes longer than we’d thought so we simply send out for pizza. It’s entirely possible that many of them didn’t have anything to eat at home. It was exactly a time of economic boon in Israel! The Romans controlled the wealth and weren’t the most philanthropic colonizers in history.
“Send them away! Lazy looky-loos. Why don’t they just get a job like everybody else? Why do we have to feed them? We barely have enough for ourselves.”
“Not today. It’s not my way, any day. You (emphasis on “you”) give them something to eat!”
I had a conversation with a friend a while back about giving to the poor. She said, “If God wanted to, he could just rain money out of the sky like he did with manna. He doesn’t need me to be involved.” (Disclaimer: It sounds a little harsher than when she said it. This sister happens to be a very generous soul and gives of herself and what she has liberally. Our conversation about the distribution of wealth was purely philosophical.)
Anyway, I had to think a minute before the bread and fish for everyone story came to mind and I came to the conclusion that sky-dropped manna is old school. Jesus’ “new school” method of feeding people entails other people. He almost always takes care of people through other people. In this way he kills a number of birds with one stone. He fills empty stomachs, teaches us the merits of partnership with him, and gives us a glimpse of the benefit of community.
His usual method of feeding hungry people is as such: He begins with the little we have, multiplies it and uses us as distributors, and we consume it together in community.
He begins with the little we have
He makes a lot out of our little, a kid’s lunch of a few tiny blue gill and a couple bagels feed a small city. Like I said, he could’ve called Big Macs out of the clouds. Instead, he commandeered the small fare of one of his younger devotees. Rather than making something out of nothing he started with the food that one hungry boy’s stomach was already growling for. He appropriated what someone had in order to feed the masses.
Brian Walsh wrote, “His upside-down kingdom is a place of mutuality. So Jesus begins with the resources already available in the community. He takes a handful of loaves and fish from a little boy, thus including the poor and what they have to offer as a central part of the solution.”
That’s his way. He feeds people, not to mention frees people, through other people. Face it, we don’t have what it takes to either feed or free others, but if, like this boy, we’ll hand our little over to him he’ll make it into something more than it is, more than we could ever make it to be. This is why he didn’t just materialize bread and fish from the air. He wanted us to see that the omnipotent God does his best work through people.