By Leow Yew Chong
In preparing to teach on the Life of Christ – Galilean Ministry, I took note of one miraculous incident which was recorded by all the four gospel writers i.e. the feeding of the 5,000 men with five loaves of barley bread and two small fishes. You will find this account in Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-14.
Briefly, Jesus had earlier sent out His twelve apostles on a limited commission to tell the people of Israel of the kingdom of God and for them to heal those who are sick and to cast out demons. When the apostles returned and reported to Jesus all that had taken place, He took them aside to a deserted area belonging to Bethsaida, to rest. However, the people from all the surrounding cities came out to them. Jesus having compassion on the multitude who were like sheep without a shepherd, taught them many things. Now evening was nigh, hence the apostles asked Jesus to send the people back so that they may search for food along the journey. Also, as the Passover was near, the people may be able to get food from the surrounding villages that had stocked up for the festival.
However, Jesus told the disciples to give the people food before sending them on the journey. Philip answered that even with 200 denarii (equivalent to 7 months’ wages) it would only be sufficient to give each a little. Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said that there was a lad who had five barley loaves and two small fishes. Jesus then commanded that the people sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. He then gave thanks and broke the 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 small fishes into fragments whereby after the people had eaten, the fragments filled up 12 full baskets.
From this little provision that was sufficient for a young man, Jesus fed the multitudes which had more than 5,000 men and not counting women and children. So, what can we learn from this event that God had caused it to be recorded in all four gospel accounts?
Firstly, we find that Jesus had compassion on the people even when they were overbearing as these occupied whatever time that Jesus and the disciples had, for we read in Mark 6:31 that they didn’t even had time to eat, much less rest. Jesus healed their sick and taught them. He showed them the way, feeding them as a good shepherd, leading them to still waters and restoring their souls. That’s a lot to digest for we are all more than conquerors (i.e. all of us are leaders to guide the weary) in Christ. Conquerors exercise self-control and love, and know the way forward.
Secondly, both Philip and Andrew, despite having been with Jesus all this while and having seen His various mighty works and on their own performed mighty works, yet they felt very overwhelmed by the propensity of the task at hand. The huge crowd worried them to the point that we may infer that they felt helpless in helping and hopeless in feeding. Hence Philip conjectured on the amount of food required, and Andrew despondently solicited the people for food. Sometimes, in our service to God, we feel like Philip and Andrew in that the task at hand is huge but help seems distant. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.
Thirdly, the lad as recounted in the gospel of John. We are not told of how he came by the five loaves of barley bread and two small fishes. Perhaps the lad’s parents were wise in preparing extra provision. The other thing to note was that despite the huge crowd, no one came forward to share their provisions; only this lad did. Strange isn’t it that none came forth.
We can blame the men for being foolhardy in thinking they could survive without food for a week, but what about the womenfolk who were among the multitude? So, we see here that the “youngest,” “weakest” was willing to share when asked. Similar to the poor widow’s mite, isn’t it? In the world, we are taught that the rich and powerful can pull the necessary lever, but in the kingdom of the Lord, God uses those who are willing and it’s not for us to reject these people’s offering.
Finally, the five barley loaves and two small fishes.These were all that Jesus had to work on. Looking up to heaven, Jesus blessed these and broke them into fragments before passing them to the apostles to distribute to the multitude. By the time, the multitude had finished eating from these five barley loaves and two small fishes, they had collected a total of 12 basket full of fragments.
This tells me that Jesus doesn’t need us to have everything in hand to do His work. He accepts us as we are and will transform us to be a great blessing for all. However, the key criterion is this. We need to be broken up like the bread before He can use us and multiply our efforts. The need to die on the cross is a daily affair. Daily we sin against Him. (Just consider how we drive or go about our daily affairs.)
In summary, this account of the feeding of the 5,000 reminds us of Jesus’ compassion, His leadership, Philip and Andrew’s frailty which correspond to ourselves in the face of seemingly unsurmountable tasks. We are reminded that sometimes only the young and weak are able to render help, and we shouldn’t look down on them. The little offerings and services that are provided can be multiplied manifold. To be of great service to God, we need to be broken up and remade into the image of Jesus. Little is much when God is in it.