Friday, July 29, 2011

Loaves and Fishes

Five small loaves and two fish
 Let us look at this story of the miraculous feeding of the 5000 or as it is sometimes called "the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes." It is essential to the Gospel writers as it is one of the few miracles that are retold by all four Gospel writers in the Bible. (1) Few of Jesus' miracles are so revealing as this. Here are some valuable lessons that we should note from this miracle.
Galilee was a small country, only 50 miles from north to south and 25 miles from east to west, but Josephus (a Jewish-Roman Historian in Jesus’ day) tells us that within that small area there were 204 towns and villages, none with a population of fewer than 15,000 people. (2)  It was tough for Jesus to be alone in a place like Galilee.

One of the few quiet places was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It is only 8 miles wide, at it’s fullest and shaped like a “harp,” which gives it its original name, “Kinnor.”(3) Jesus' friends were fisherfolk, and it would not have been challenging to embark on one of their boats and land on the east side of the lake.

Jesus, like all of us, needed to rest. He was tired from his healing and teaching ministry, and he was mourning the loss of his friend and cousin, John the Baptist. Matthew writes, “When Jesus heard what had happened (the news of the death of John the Baptist), he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (probably Bethsaida) Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.”(4)
Jesus was seeking rest for his body and strength for his soul in these lonely places, but he was not to get it. The crowds flocked around the top of the lake and were waiting for him when he arrived. So Jesus healed them. (5)  When evening came, he decided to feed them before they took the long road home.  

You and I may feel worn out and tired from the pressures of life. To his disciples, Jesus makes an offer concerning rest. He says, “Come unto me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (6)
People on lakeside
When Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion to the depths of his being. That is a very beautiful thing. Jesus had come to find peace and loneliness. Instead, he found a vast crowd eagerly demanding what he could give. He might so easily have resented them. But Jesus was not like that. Far from finding them a nuisance, he was moved with compassion for them.
Premanand was a wealthy high-caste Indian who became a Christian. He says in his autobiography: "As in the days of old, so now our message to the non-Christian world has to be the same,  that God cares." (7) If that be so, we must never be too busy for people, and we must never even seem to find them troublesome and a nuisance.  We must never deal with people with one eye on the clock as if we were anxious to be rid of them as soon as we can.  Jesus never found any person a nuisance, even when his whole being was crying out for rest and quiet. Neither must his followers.
Matthew tells us, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves.” (8) Jesus took the food and said a blessing. The Jewish grace before meals was very simple: "Blessed art thou, Jehovah our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." That would be the grace which Jesus said, for that was the blessing which every Jewish family used. Here we see Jesus showing that it is God's gifts that he brings to men and women, boys and girls. Gratitude is rare enough to other people. It is rarer still towards God.
Open Hand
“Then Jesus gave them (the bread and fish) to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.”(9) Archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy once asked the clergy of the Diocese of Toronto to each take into their care twelve disciples. In the same way, Jesus could easily have himself taken the broken bits of bread and the little fishes directly to the people, but instead, he gave it to the disciples. He handed it to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the crowd. Jesus worked through the hands of his disciples that day, and he still does. The disciple is helpless without his Lord. If Jesus wants something done, if he wants a child taught, or a person helped, he finds a person to do it. He uses open people through whom he can act, and through whom he can speak. 
As a young man, Premanand came into contact with Bishop Whitley at Ranchi. He wrote, "The Bishop read the Bible with me daily, and we talked together in Bengali. The longer I lived with the Bishop, the closer I came to him and found that his life revealed Christ to me, and his deeds and words made it easier for me to understand the mind and teaching of Christ. I had a new vision of Christ when I saw Christ's life of love, sacrifice, and self-denial in the everyday life of the Bishop. He became the epistle of Christ to me."

When Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowd, they said to him that all they had was five loaves and two fishes. Yet with what they brought to him, Jesus wrought this miracle. Jesus says to us, "Come to me as you are, however ill-equipped, bring to me what you have, however little, and I will use it greatly in my service." Little is always much in the hands of Christ. As one of the Bill Gaither songs says, “Little is much when God is in it.”

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of  leftover broken pieces. “ (9) Even when a miracle could feed people until they were full, there was no waste. To the Jew, bread was precious and never to be thrown away. Jesus and King David before him were born in Bethlehem or in Hebrew “Bet Lehm,” which means the “House of Bread.” (10) Jesus says of himself, “I am the Bread of Life.” (11) A wasteful extravagance is never right. God's generous giving and our wise use must go hand in hand.

The feeding of the 5000 is not some isolated event in history, but a demonstration of the constant, day to day operating power of Jesus Christ in our lives. Jesus applies these principles of life, saying, “he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”(12) If only we would take up this generous offer of Jesus!

That's what I think anyway,

Rev Ron


(1) Parallels can be found in Matthew 14. 13-21, Mark 6.32-44, Luke 9.10-17 and John 6.1-13.(2)   Wikipedia “Josephus” (3)Wikipedia on “Galilee” (4) Matthew 14:13  (N.I.V.) (5) Matthew 14:14  (N.I.V.) (6) Matthew 11.28 (N.I.V.) (7) Dr. William Barclay, "Barclay's Daily Study Bible (N.T.)" on Matthew 14.13-21  (8) Matthew 14. (N.I.V.) (9) Matthew 14:13  (N.I.V.) (10) Matthew 14:20  (N.I.V.) (11) Wikipedia “Bethlehem” in modern Hebrew. (12) John 6.35a (13) John 6.35b

No comments: