Jesus and his disciples are on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with a large crowd of people who have followed him almost all the way around the lake. On the side of a mountain there, Jesus teaches all day long. As the sun gets low in the sky, the large crowd has grown hungry and there isn’t a convenient way of feeding them quickly. The large crowd has turned into a large need, and in the face of it, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, What are you going to do?
“Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?”
Jesus poses the problem in purely human and natural terms: bread and money. Philip answers Jesus honestly and openly by noticing that none of them have the money it will take to feed the crowd. He essentially says that nearly a year’s salary is not enough, and we don’t have anything like that. Philip hasn’t given a bad answer – he simply recognizes what Jesus wants him to see, that the need is impossible to meet.
“He said this to test him for he himself knew what he would do.”
While Philip does the math, Andrew looks around to see how much food he can scrounge up. He comes up with a boy with 5 barely loaves and 2 fish and recognizes how insufficient they are to the task laid before them by Jesus. One sack lunch will not feed the crowd.
Both Philip and Andrew take note of how impossible the task is, but Jesus is testing them, he is pressing them to see things differently. I like the way the Message paraphrases that sentence, “He said this to stretch Philip’s faith.” In their hands with what they are able to provide, the massive need before them will never be met. But Jesus wants them to see things through a different lens – through what is possible through him.
What happens next is the twist in the story that makes all the difference. In fact, the lesson goes by so fast, we are apt to miss it. After having the crowd seated on the grassy hillside (remind you of Psalm 23?), Jesus does something that is the lesson. The action is the point of the story.
“Jesus then took the loaves…”
Jesus literally took matters into his own hands and the crowd was fed to overflowing. Everyone had everything they could eat and there was enough left over for each disciple to carry around a basketful of more bread than they began with. Jesus took everything the disciples and the crowd could give him, which was totally insufficient to the task, and fed to overflowing.
It is beautiful what Jesus can do with what humble and submitted people give him. We cannot meet a single need in our own power, but Jesus can satisfy them all.
The lesson Jesus teaches his disciples from the first question to the moment when they pick up the leftovers is that we can never meet people’s needs – their deepest and truest needs – with our own power. We are always insufficient to the task. But these gifts and these goods placed in the hands of the Son of God makes all the difference.
In the hands of Jesus, all can be fed.