When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. 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 the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:13-21
At times my learners forget their lunches. They come to me panic stricken and the words pour out quickly. “I forgot my lunch!” We usually attempt to contact home and get a lunch delivered but that’s not always possible. On those occasions where mom and dad cannot come to the rescue, the rest of the learners open their lunches and the offerings are dug out quickly. The first to get donated are usually the healthiest (the things kids really aren’t keen to eat) like veggies and fruits. Coming up with some sort of main course is a little harder. But eventually, the one with the forgotten lunch has something to eat. I’ve heard the comment that you get a better lunch if you forget yours at home than what was packed for you by mom or dad.
The people Jesus fed had not forgotten their lunches. Well, in a way they had, but this wasn’t a deliberate leaving of food at home. They had come. Desperate to hear One who would heal their sick, who would feed their souls rather than saddling them with burdens. They were willing to hunt Jesus down in solitary and abandoned places because they were driven to know the Man who was God Incarnate. Food for their stomachs was a lower priority than food for their hearts and souls. And so they found Jesus and He recognized the desperation of heart and mind and He fed them the spiritual food they were craving.
One little boy, in my mind he’s an elementary aged child, came prepared! (John 6: 8-9) He’d brought supper with him. His mom must have been a keener. He would be gone for the day and so in order to ensure he was taken care of, she had dutifully prepared food for him. It was enough for his stomach. Five loaves of bread and two fish. As hunger will have made its presence known, his confidence must have blossomed. I have my supper. It’s great. I can hear Jesus and eat the food I’ve brought. Perfect!
The disciples were desperate. These were not rich men! They had left occupations behind to follow Jesus. There’s no record of any great wealth in the three years these men followed Jesus. Their needs were taken care of, but not lavishly. They had someone to tend the purse, even though his reputation for honesty left something to be desired. But now Jesus had given them the impossible task of feeding masses of people. There was no town close by, nowhere to send the people to go and find food for themselves. They were in the middle of nothing and 5000 men were in need of food. The women and children were there too! I cannot fathom the overwhelming feeling of needing to provide for that many people.
In their desperation, they searched the crowd. Surely someone brought food with them! I can only imagine how they descended on the boy with his supper. We found a kid, he’s got food! It’s not much, but this is more than the nothing we had a moment ago. I wonder about the boy’s reaction. Did he regret being found out? Or did this bring him right into the centre of the action. In the excitement, his supper was suddenly a ticket to meeting Jesus face to face.
Jesus took the food, meager as it was. He held it up to heaven, blessed it, and had it distributed by the disciples to the masses. It fed every hungry mouth until all were satisfied. There were leftovers – twelve basketfuls of them.
Jesus did not look at the food he was given and see a meager amount. Rather, He saw a willing sacrifice and an opportunity for the Father to be glorified. Food for the masses that would feed their physical souls. A testimony of the goodness of God in the middle of a solitary place. There had been physical healings, spiritual teaching and now stomachs replete with a good meal.
Jesus continues to provide today. He provides in my life in ways that are blatantly obvious and in ways that are subtle manifestations of His presence. However, I’ll admit that I often miss the moments of His provision. I take so much for granted – my career, my home, the vehicle I drive, the food in the freezer, fridge and pantry, the clothes in the closet. The practicalities of my life that are just there. Each one is a gift from His hand. Each one testifies to God’s presence in my life. Each one should make my heart more grateful than it can possibly be. But sometimes I complain. The career could be easier, the home prettier, the vehicle and clothes fancier, the food better tasting. These complaints reveal the attitude of my heart. There is selfishness and pride here in abundance. Admitting the selfishness and pride is painful and frustrating. Shouldn’t I be past this already? I’m not. God forgive me for a heart that is ungrateful.
In this Advent season, I am called to not only live open handedly but to live gratefully. To offer up whatever my “supper” is. To hold my “five loaves and two fish” loosely in open hands so that they can be used by the King. His plans for my “loaves and fish” are bigger than I will ever know or understand.