I don’t have a great deal of varied experience with other churches, but I do know it is quite common for Sunday morning worshippers to hang out together after the morning service for refreshments and fellowship. In most cases the comestibles are fairly modest — tea, coffee, cookies or maybe cake on a special occasion. It’s a great time to catch up with friends and welcome visitors and makes a great introduction to the extended family of believers.
My multicultrural church takes the concept of Food and Fellowship to an entirely different level. We have teams of volunteers who take responsibility to ensure no-one leaves our fellowship unfed physically (or spiritually). We apparently don’t think it is incongruous to have Welsh Tea Cakes, Filipino Lumpia, and Mexican Flan on the menu on any given Sunday! The quantities of food prepared are staggering, reflecting the bounty of God’s provision and care and concern for fellow believers.
At a recent pot-luck I overheard someone make a remark, “it’s like the feeding of the five thousand!”. But although our teams are miracle workers in many senses, they cannot compare to the huge picnic on the hillside of the Sea of Galilee and what happened there. I know you probably have the gist of the story, but it never hurts to examine some of the details again. Here’s the story as recounted by John the Apostle:
After this, Jesus crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.) Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves. When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself. John 6:1-15 NLT
Reading those sentences might give the impression that the events of the day happened in a fast sequence, but a little introspection reveals that the story unfolded over many hours.
There are four main characters in the story, five if you include the “crowd” — Jesus, Philip, Andrew, and an anonymous boy. I find it interesting that we know very little about Andrew and Philip except for this incident and in each case they are only mentioned one other time in the gospels — Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist introducing his brother Simon (Peter) to Jesus, and Philip inquiring of Jesus when we would get to see God the Father. Andrew would later become famous as the patron saint of singers, fishermen and Scotland. He was reputedly martyred by crucifixion on a saltire - a cross in the shape of an “X” - which on a blue background forms the national flags of Scotland and Georgia (the country, not the US State).
Reading the story, my mind is filled with “why”s.
Why did Jesus assume it was his followers responsibility to feed the crowd? Surely every family should have made provision for their own needs.
Why did Jesus force Philip to confront the enormity of the problem? Several months worth of wages wouldn’t make a dent in feeding a crowd that large.
Why did Andrew even mention the boy with five breadsticks and two sardines?
Why did Andrew notice the boy in the first place? His lunch was minuscule compared with the size of the need.
Why was the boy willing to give his lunch to Jesus? What difference could it possibly make?
In my mind I see the smile on Jesus’ face as he sets the scene for the demonstration of God’s glory as an example that would be spoken of for generations to come. John says that Jesus already knew what he was going to do before asking Philip to define the scope of the problem.
Jesus was about to prove that our insufficiencies are trivial and our meagre resources become boundless when given into his hands.
I think there are many lessons to be learned from this incident and I’m sure your local preacher can and will preach powerful sermons based on them. But let me point out some of the aspects that speak to me:
Jesus gives us the responsibility of the welfare of heedless and careless crowds. Yes, they should be taking individual responsibility for their own spiritual well-being, but we have the answers they need and a commission from our heavenly leader to tell them the good news!
We should not be deterred by the enormity of the task. The bigger the apparent problem, the more God’s power and glory will be revealed. There will even be “leftovers” — unforeseen outcomes — resulting from the initial solution.
The apparent paucity of our resources should not be a deterrent for making them available for the Lord’s use. When I get to heaven I’d like to meet that anonymous boy and get his side of the story. I’m sure he is still in awe of what was done with his gift!
God loves to use seemingly insignificant and ordinary anonymous people in accomplishing His purposes. It is precisely because of their apparent insignificance and lack of resources that God can make His own Glory evident through them.
The key to seeing miracles is presenting yourself and whatever resources you have unconditionally for God’s use, however He sees fit to use them.
By giving away his lunch, the boy probably ate more that day than the five barley breadsticks and two sardines he initially brought!
As an aside, you may wonder why I refer to the fish as “sardines”. It is because as a modern day fisherman on the Sea of Galilee reports, “At the height of the fishing season, tens of tons of sardines are caught every night.” [Mendel Nun, Kibbutz Ein Gev, Biblical Archaeology Review]. The proper name for them is “Kinneret Sardine” and they are abundant in those waters, making them cheap and widely available for a picnic lunch!
The late General of The Salvation Army, John Gowans, entitled his autobiography “There’s a boy here”, echoing the words of Andrew at that miracle site. You may not think you have much to offer in God’s service, but notice that what you do have can be miraculously multiplied by God’s power. The key is in your willingness to make it available. God will do all the hard work!
Enjoy the ride and be sure to pick up the leftovers after your miracle picnic and give God the glory!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study