Two magicians are walking down the street, arguing over which of them is the better magician. As they walk they see a bakery and the first magician says to the second, “I am such a great magician, I bet I can take three donuts from this store without being noticed.”
They walk into the store and sure enough, the first magician artfully takes three donuts from under the very nose of the baker without being noticed. He then snidely challenges the other magician to perform a trick of equal difficulty. The second magician then calls the baker and asks for 3 donuts if he’d like to see a magic trick. The baker does his part and provides the donuts. The magician then eats each of the donuts and exclaims “Ta-Dah.” The baker gets angry and asks “So where is the magic trick?” The second magician replies “Look in my friend’s pocket.”
If you were to pick the greatest miracle Jesus ever performed which miracle would you choose? Would you choose the one we read today or perhaps would you choose the healing of a man born blind? Or maybe the one where he tells the winds and waves during that storm to calm down; or perhaps the raising of dead Lazarus back to life again? There were, when one begins to think about it, a lot of really wonderful miracles that Jesus performed weren’t there? Yet there is only one miracle that all the gospel writers mention; only one, that miracle is this one, the feeding of the 5,000. Now when God wants to emphasize things in His Word he doesn’t use bold print or a highlighter. I mean he can’t. There is no way for underlining or italicizing to make something stand out. The only way for God to emphasize something is to repeat it. We see it in other places in the Bible, for example, remember Isaiah’s vision? We hear holy, holy, holy is the Lord. Not simply holy is the Lord or not holy, holy is the Lord. But Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord. When something is important it emphasized through repetition. So when we see something repeated four times we need to step back and look more closely. That is one of the reasons when I hear people say that Jesus really did not perform any miracle here but when the crowds saw the little boy share his lunch they were convicted to share their lunches too, they are just ignoring the context of Scripture. For all four gospel writers to include this event; we have to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t a magician’s trick, some sleight of the hands; it was God on earth performing a mighty miracle that astounded all who saw it.
I think for us this story has lost its impact because of its familiarity. Consider with me a minute while we try to recreate the situation. Jesus and his disciples pull up on the shore of a place on the lake that is typically deserted. But as they get off the boat and begin walking inland crowds of people are there waiting to see Jesus. Matthew tells us that there are five thousand men plus the women and children. So how many people were really there? Do any of you recall Neil Diamond’s song about Brother Love’s traveling salvation show? When it comes to town ‘we pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes.’ It was the same sort of thing then. Everyone went. Remember that Jesus was a well-known miracle worker. Jesus healed the sick and fixed those with broken bodies. And then he would teach; and when he spoke the people hung on his words. So the men would bring their wife and children and even if the family had only one child we are now talking 15,000. And most families had a number of children, just like the family from which Jesus came—there were 4 sons and 2 or 3 daughters. So the Bible commentators figure there may have been between 10 and 20,000 thousand people. So that you have a context, the Amalie Arena in Tampa holds about 20,000 people at capacity.
It is no wonder that the disciples were concerned. “Tell these people to go to a nearby village to get some food,” they advised Jesus. The Scripture says it was evening—the word in the Greek is a bit more flexible—it could have been late afternoon, say, around 3 or 4 o’clock. So Jesus tells his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” They say, “Yeah, but we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish.” Imagine, there you are in the Amalie Arena in Tampa, the arena if full and you have 5 loaves and 2 fish and Jesus just told you to feed all those people. Five loaves and two fish is not enough to feed five men much less 5 thousand. So Jesus tells them to bring him the 5 loaves and 2 fish. He blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds. Again, imagine feeding a capacity crowd in the Amalie Arena. The disciples have to make many, many trips out the groups with these baskets. When Jesus fills up a basket with bread, then a disciple troops out to a group of people to have someone open up a robe and then the disciple tips his basket over onto the robe and the group of people begin to get the pieces of bread. A bit later someone else comes with the fish. The disciples really have to hustle though. Each one has to make between five to fifteen trips out with a full basket. Can you imagine the disciples’ faces as they watched Jesus break apart the loaves and break apart the fish and then as he kept breaking and kept breaking on and on for these thousands of people? When you think about it, when you try to picture it, one begins to understand why this miracle was included in all the gospels. It must have been incredible. It was indeed a powerful miracle. But what did Jesus want his disciples and us to learn from it?
We know from the other gospels that Jesus and his disciples were tired and were trying to get away from the crowds to have a little down time. So they had come purposefully to a deserted area so there would be no people. Then when they get there, there were people. But notice what the gospel tells us, “When Jesus saw the crowd; he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Yes, Jesus is tired emotionally and perhaps physically, but when confronted with a need he reacts compassionately. He doesn’t complain or get irritated.
The next thing we see was the super abundant power of Jesus versus the disciples’ inadequacy. The disciples were unable to help the crowd. Their best solution was to send them away. But Jesus took care of the problem with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. Please notice that Jesus did not do a manna thing; people did not just look around them and see manna on the ground around them. He had the disciples help him, in fact, without the disciples no one would have been fed. They carried out these baskets of bread and fish to the groups of people. Then they went back with the baskets and dumped the left-overs back into the baskets. There was a lot of leg-work for the disciples.
Too often, we think that giving our lives to God is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the altar, saying, “Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all to you,” a one-time offer sort of thing. But is not exactly what God wants. Certainly he wants our lives but He doesn’t ask for it in one big piece. God sends us to the bank to cash that $1,000 bill in for change and small bills. And then we go through life giving away bits of it here and there. Instead of watching a ball game, taking a nap, or reading, we spend some time visiting or calling a person who may be lonely. Instead of sipping coffee and reading the newspaper, we get dressed and go to church or we spend time reading the Bible and praying. Instead of playing games on the computer, we listen to a friend tell us about her or his problems, even though we’re tired and have problems of our own with which to deal. We are to give our lives to God in little pieces every day through service to Him and others.
There is no magic trick or secret formula to living out our Christian faith. We need to develop compassion and patience for others like Jesus had and we need to grow in our faith and confidence in God’s great power to help us and to work through us to care for the needs of those around us. Amen