The story of Jesus Feeding the 5,000 is a favorite Sunday School story, and many of us who have grown up in church have probably heard this story many times. So this morning I want to invite us to enter into this story from a slightly different perspective, by focusing in on the boy who gave his lunch to help Jesus feed a multitude of people. Let’s see what God may have for us to learn this morning as we look at this story from a different angle.
The following is my imaginative retelling of the story of the boy who gave his lunch to help Jesus feed 5,000 people:
Johnny was one of those rare kids who always loved going to school. He was actually sad when harvest season rolled around. They had to close school for harvest season because so many of his schoolmates were from farming families, and all hands were needed on deck during harvest season. Not that that really mattered to Johnny’s family, since his father was a fisherman, and fish were “harvested” year-round.
When school was not in session, Johnny took it upon himself to seek out his own educational enrichment opportunities. He was a voracious learner, and like most kids, he had a natural curiosity about life. Johnny was known for always carrying something to take notes with. Since parchment and papyrus were incredibly expensive, Johnny used whatever he could find — often etching notes onto broken pieces of pottery or other found objects. No matter where he went, he was always carefully observing and often recording anything that he thought might be useful for him to remember some day.
Fishing mostly took place at night and in the very early morning, so Johnny’s father was long gone by the time Johnny woke up in the mornings. Every morning, Johnny jumped out of bed at the crack of dawn, got dressed as quickly as possible, scarfed down his breakfast, and ran down to the docks to see if he could catch a glimpse of his father’s fishing vessel hauling in the catch of fish from that night. Johnny knew he would be expected to lend a helping hand, but what he really wanted was to observe and document his father’s every move. He wanted to learn everything he could about the fishing business — not just how to catch, clean, and scale fish, but also how to haggle for the best price at the wholesalers in the marketplace and how to handle the accounting for a minor fishing operation. He figured that if he was going to take over the family business someday, he needed to get started preparing as soon as possible. And these are the kinds of things that they don’t really teach you in school.
This morning, like most mornings, Johnny was up at the crack of dawn. He threw on his clothes and scarfed down his breakfast. But he wasn’t heading to the fishing docks today. Johnny had heard a rumor that the famous teacher/miracle worker Jesus of Nazareth was in the area. Johnny really wanted to hear Jesus teach – he figured he needed to learn about all aspects of life, not just the fishing business, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn new things. He enjoyed learning the Jewish history and laws that they taught in school, but from what he heard, Jesus’s teachings were quite different.
Johnny’s parents weren’t very excited about his plans for the day, but several of their neighbors were planning to go hear Jesus speak, so they told Johnny to stick with someone that he knows. Johnny’s mother even packed a lunch for him — a couple small loaves of bread and some grilled fish that his father had caught the day before. She threw in a few additional small loaves of bread in case one of Johnny’s friends forgot their lunch.
And with that, Johnny was out the door. And none too soon, because everywhere he looked people were streaming out of their houses. Someone yelled, “he’s going to the other side!” and then took off running. Johnny joined the crowd of people rushing, not sure where they were going, he just knew they were going to get to hear Jesus. It turned out that Jesus and his disciples had gotten into a boat and were heading to the other side of the sea! Johnny had never been on that side of the sea before, but he had determined in his mind to see Jesus, and he wasn’t about to give up now. In fact, the whole crowd was so determined to see Jesus that they kept running the whole way around the sea and beat Jesus and his disciples to the other side!
It wasn’t until that point that Johnny realized he had completely forgotten to bring anything to take notes with! This was probably one of the most important days of his life, and he had absolutely no way to document it. He’d just have to pay extra close attention to what Jesus was saying and doing so he could write down everything that evening when he got home.
What Johnny did have, however, was his lunch. Actually he was so glad his mother had the foresight to pack it for him since they were kind of in the middle of nowhere, and they had been running so long that Johnny was already feeling quite hungry. He decided to wait to eat, though, because he didn’t know how long Jesus was going to teach and he didn’t want to miss a single word.
It wasn’t long before he heard some commotion in the crowd. One of the men who had arrived on the boat with Jesus was passing through the crowd, asking if anyone had any food with them to help feed the crowd. Johnny looked around, fully expecting to see everyone raise their hands. But no one did. Had no one else brought food with them? Was Johnny the only one? The man was getting closer. Johnny started to get nervous. Was he really going to be asked to give up his lunch? What would he do? He didn’t want to lie, but he was already really hungry, and his lunch was hardly enough for him and maybe a couple of his friends — not nearly enough for this mob of people. The man was coming closer, still asking if anyone had food to help feed the multitude! Johnny started to sweat, and quickly tucked his lunch inside his cloak. But immediately he felt a slight clenching in his chest. Was it right for Johnny to keep his lunch for himself? What if there were others who needed it more than him? Johnny could go one day without eating, right?
Slowly, Johnny brought his lunch out from underneath his cloak and murmured hesitantly, “I have some food!” The man didn’t hear him at first, but one of Johnny’s neighbors yelled out, “this boy has some food!” The man rushed over excitedly, until he saw the paltry contents of Johnny’s lunch. “Thank you,” the man shrugged. “It’s not much, but come with me and we’ll see what the master says.”
The man (who Johnny later found out was named Andrew), took Johnny right up to the front of the crowd and introduced him to Jesus. Johnny almost fainted from a combination of fear, excitement, and hunger. In the midst of the haziness, Johnny heard Jesus say “Thank you” and then instruct his disciples to have everyone sit down on the grass. Johnny saw Jesus hold up the five small barley loaves, give thanks, and then hand the loaves to his disciples. To Johnny, everything after that point was a blur.
What happened next, or exactly how it happened, we’ll probably never fully comprehend. Did the fish and loaves multiply in Jesus’s hands, or in the baskets while the disciples were handing them out? Some people think that each person only got a crumb, and the miracle was that they felt full with only a crumb! But the Gospel of John tells us that there were twelve baskets filled with food left over afterwards, much more food than they started with!
Other biblical scholars, who try to explain away the miraculous nature of Jesus’s ministry, say that perhaps others in the crowd, upon seeing the little boy sacrificially give his lunch, felt conviction in their hearts and pulled out their own secret stashes of food and shared their lunches as well. The “miracle” in this case was that Jesus had the power to convict people of their lack of generosity and motivate greedy people to share.
But the Gospel of John seems to indicate that this was indeed a miracle, that somehow Jesus multiplied five small loaves of bread and two fish to feed a hungry multitude, that everyone had plenty to eat, and that there was more food left over than when they started. John even calls it a “sign,” and says that afterwards people knew Jesus was a prophet and wanted to make him their king!
So what can we learn from this story?
Well, I believe there are a number of lessons we can learn:
#1. that God has the miraculous power to provide, to take whatever we have and multiply it to make it enough.
#2. that when we hear Jesus inviting us to do something, no matter how crazy it may seem, we can trust that God will work it out for our good.
And #3. that if we’re ever going to the middle of a deserted place to hear a religious faith healer teach, we should always pack a lunch! 😃
But this morning I want to invite us to consider the fact that Jesus chose to use a small boy’s lunch to feed over 5,000 men. (Some estimate that the crowd was probably closer to 20,000 including women and children). Jesus probably could have caused fish and loaves to spontaneously appear out of thin air. But he didn’t. Instead he chose to invite this young boy to participate in this miracle, and to multiply this small boy’s faith and generosity to feed all of those people.
And this is how it is all throughout the Bible. God works through people — even when it might be more efficient, cleaner, and less complicated for God to do it without using people, God consistently chooses to work in and through people.
God called Adam and Eve to tend the garden, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. God called Abraham to leave his homeland at the age of 75! God called Moses to free the Israelites from slavery, he called Deborah to be a judge. God worked through King David, Queen Esther, and the prophets all throughout the Bible. Even though God could have done all of these things apart from people, God chose to work in and through flawed, sinful, human beings.
And it’s the same today. God doesn’t need us. But God invites each one of us to participate in God’s mission to share God’s love with the whole world.
Even though, as our Old Testament Reading today stated,
“All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.” (Psalm 14:3)
And yet, God sent Jesus to seek and to save the lost. God invites us to be transformed, to be reconciled to God, and to participate in God’s work in the world!
As the Psalm goes on to say,
“Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!” (Psalm 14:7)
In the same way we can rejoice and be glad that God has brought salvation to us, and that we get to participate in God’s mission in the world. I don’t know why God chooses to work through people, but all I know is that when we say “yes” to following Jesus and participating in God’s mission, we get front row seats to see how God is work in the world. We are invited not just to observe and document, but to experience God working in and through us.
This morning I want to invite us to respond to Jesus, by offering ourselves to Jesus. For some of us, Jesus might be inviting us to give of our time, talents, resources to serve God. For others, that might mean giving our lives to Jesus for the first time. Perhaps for you that means joining the church, or being confirmed. Perhaps there’s something else that Jesus is inviting you to give over to him. Let’s respond together by singing: “Take My Life and Let It Be.” Let this be our prayer of response today!
Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.