Feeding a Crowd

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

  • John 6:5-15

“Centuries ago, a little boy found himself in the midst of a vast crowd of people – larger than any group he’d ever seen.  He had come out of curiosity, having heard that a man named Jesus was nearby.
“Not knowing how far he would have to travel or how long he would be gone, the boy had packed a small lunch for himself, a couple of small fish and some bread.
“Suddenly a man tapped the lad on the shoulder and asked what he had is his hand.  And the next thing the boy knew, his lunch was feeding over five thousand people!
“Once Jesus got hold of the boy’s simple meal there was no limit to what He could make of it.
“Feeling a little overwhelmed?  Starting to get the idea that you’re surrounded by folks getting giant things done while it’s all you can do to make it through the week?  Maybe you’ve fallen into a well of comparison and you’re drowning in discouragement because ‘Compared to _____’ you’re not making nearly the difference he or she is.
“To all who feel overwhelmed or who are tempted to take a much too critical look at their lives and feel insignificant … take heart!  Do what you can!”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, The Finishing Point

What was going through this boy’s mind?  When they borrowed the donkey for Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, they simply told the owner that the master needed it.  Jesus had prepared the owner’s heart.  In this case, Jesus knew how many fish and bread were there and how many mouths He had to feed.  He had already done the math.

Had Jesus already prepared the boy’s heart?  Or did the boy feel as if he had just been mugged by one of the Twelve?  We know that the boy accompanied the meal.  Did the boy follow the disciple who had taken his meal, Andrew, not trusting him, wanting to make sure that the disciple had not simply stolen his only meal, the only meal in the entire crowd?

Notice that in the synoptic Gospels, the disciples say something along the lines of “WE have two fish and five loaves of bread” (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9).  Only the Gospel of John names the source of the meal.  As I mentioned a few days ago in ‘Who Said What’, John names names.  He doesn’t name the boy, but he gives the boy credit instead of the disciples suddenly having the food.  In John, we hear from Andrew, who does not present the food, but presents the boy who has the food.  These little details, written from a different person’s eyewitness perspective, make a profound difference in the story.

My imagination runs wild in circumstances like this.  Some scholars hypothesize that the young man, fleeing naked from the guards who arrested Jesus (Mark 14:51-52), is John Mark, the writer of the Gospel, the only Gospel to mention the fact.  Was Mark also the young boy who had the fish and bread?  Did he at that point start following Jesus?  Wouldn’t you if you had a meal fit for one person, the meal fed thousands, and much more food was left behind than was there to start?  The idea of a young boy versus young man hinges in the Jewish tradition around that point when a boy becomes a man.  In modern times at the bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah for young women.  If Mark was about that age at the time, he could have been both young men, but I digress.  There were many young boys in that crowd.  And to quibble with Swindoll, did the boy pack the food or was a caring mother involved?

Another thing, we have no idea how many people were fed.  It says 5,000, but in Jewish tradition, usually the only ones counted were the males who had come of age.  Thus, the young boy providing the meal was probably not among the ones counted, since John calls him a ‘boy.’  Assuming most of the men had a spouse, and that some had children, you can easily imagine that over 10,000 were fed.  We just don’t know.  But we do know that twelve baskets of leftover fish and bread were gathered afterwards.

And all because of a small meal that one boy provided.

We can make contributions that multiply.  Feeding America (I think) is advertising that $1 can become 10 meals.  A lot of charities advertise matching funds, usually in limited timeframes, so that your gift can grow.  What some charities don’t say in some of these cases is that when you feed people in other countries, the dollar goes further.  In India, and considering common laborers, men are paid each day about a dollar, women about 80 cents.  It’s about the same in Thailand, and probably less in other countries.  A donation that we think is so small can feed a lot.  The sad truth is that when feeding those on the brink of starvation, they cannot eat a lot.  Thus, the meal for a healthy person feeds a few more when the digestive system cannot process a full meal.

I guess the thing to do is give to a charity that you can trust, where most of the money goes to the service rather than the administration of the service.  Make your choice prayerfully, and then let God sort it out.  As I started this post, God has already done the math.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

6 Comments

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  1. Beautiful. Thank you for this. I always seem to learn something from your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for a good read, Mark!

    Liked by 1 person

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