After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.* A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Today we hear the familiar text of the feeding of the 5000 from John’s gospel. Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee. However, a very large crowd followed him. They had likely witnessed or heard about the signs and healings that Jesus had done for many people who were ill. They may have wanted to see more miracles at the least, but some may have just been curious to know more about this Jesus.
Once Jesus arrived at the shore, he went up on a mountain and sat down with his disciples. Jesus simply may have desired some time with his friends. However, Jesus looked down and saw that a great crowd of people had followed him. We can only assume that everyone would have been both tired and hungry. The need was real.
I find it interesting that Jesus puts the problem before the disciples by his question to Andrew, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” The need to feed the crowd is obvious and the anxiety almost palpable. Looking at the enormity of the crowd, Philip dismissed the idea that they could buy enough food for all. With the meager offering of five barley loaves and two fish by a boy, the disciples focused on the impossibility of the task and gave in to misgiving and defeat. How typical it is of Jesus to make use of someone, the unexpected individual, in the doing of his work. The boy in the Gospel isn’t remembered by name, but his role was a crucial one.
Jesus took this opportunity as a teachable moment not just for the disciples but for all of us. He took the offerings, gave thanks for them, and they became enough to feed the multitudes with plenty to spare at the end. Jesus provides assistance in handling problems, and while it may not be having to feed five thousand people, each of us faces our own challenges whether financial, medical, or relational. The answer to our problems lies in the realization of just how much we depend on Jesus.
In this difficult time for so many, the needs are many and real. Jesus is turning to us as his disciples asking how we will respond. We too may have meager offerings to share, but we must trust that Jesus will give thanks and bless them to good use. In this moment of uncertainty, it may be helpful to recall this Gospel passage! Jesus always gives us what we need. It may not be what we thought it would be or perhaps what we hoped for. However, if we are open and trusting, Jesus will bless us with what we truly need.
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
I’m so glad I learned to trust Him, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end.
Louisa M. R. Stead (1850-1917)