The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand is quite popular for the miracle shared, but, as I read through this text, God highlighted a few details that are equally important for those who He has called (hint: that includes you). Without further ado, let’s get into the story.
13 When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.
The “it” referred to at this point in the story is John the Baptist’s beheading. If you are at all familiar with the relationship he had with Jesus, then you understand how devastating this news must have been to hear (Jesus was baptized by John, who was given the special assignment of preparing the way for Jesus before his arrival and public confirmation by God (see Luke 1:5-25). The story continues:
14 And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.
Side note: In remembering that Jesus is our blueprint for a well-lived Christian life, we receive an important lesson; Even in the midst of our personal pursuits, we are to have compassion for others’ needs. Back to the story:
15 When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
As the disciples noticed the time, the amount of people and their location, they went to Jesus with their concern and a plan of action. They sought to address the issue of having many people go hungry in a place with no provision. They were trying to be proactive. Good for them. Too bad they skipped over one key detail:
16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17 And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”
Jesus helps them out. He directs their attention to the provision they already have in their possession. Unfortunately, the disciples fail to see the point Jesus is making. All they can perceive is the limitation of their ability to meet the need of the multitude. So, Jesus spells it out for them:
18 He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.
Jesus takes charge of the situation, directing everyone involved to organize themselves according to His instruction. Then, the miracle commences (get excited!). This is where another important detail is highlighted. Jesus could have taken the bread, blessed it, broke it, and then dispersed it to the crowd Himself or instructed the multitude to line up and retrieve their portion, like an ancient food pantry. Instead, He chose to give the loaves to the disciples for distribution.
Another side note: Here we get two lessons in one verse. First, a lesson of quality over quantity. You don’t need to have a lot to make a great impact, you just need what you have to be in the right hands. Second, servant-hood is a necessary part of being a disciple – which simply means that you are a follower of Christ.
20 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. 21 Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The blessing and beauty of this verse lies in the fact that, not only was the multitude satiated by the provision the disciples didn’t realize they already had, but, Jesus ensured that the disciples weren’t left empty-handed at the completion of their task. There was enough food left for them.
One last side note: Imagine if the disciples chose to be selfish with the provision they had. As they said, they only had five loaves and two fish, which, shared among them, would probably not have been enough to satisfy their appetites – Think of a large group of you and your friends at a restaurant and how quickly the bread disappears as you wait for your actual meal! Also, the notation of the multitudes size provides an idea of just how much God can do with our obedience.
22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.
Here, we see that Jesus wastes no time in sending the disciples on another journey as He stays behind and finishes up with the multitude (being a follower of Jesus involves being ready and willing to go whenever and wherever you are instructed). Once He completed that task, Jesus went on to accomplish the one He set out to do at the beginning of the story. You may have noticed that this is the second evening mentioned (see verse 15), which means that Jesus and the disciples were working through the night and into the next day (talk about burning the midnight oil!). Jesus finally gets some well-deserved alone time. Of course, being The Anointed One that He is, Jesus isolated Himself to pray without distraction, which is even more spiritual work. Thank God for a Savior who never gave up on or became lazy in the purpose He was placed on earth for (which is exactly why He’s our example).
In case it hasn’t already become apparent to you, the two-fold nature of God’s purpose is that, while He accomplishes His will, he also chooses to include us in the process. He does not require our input, but He chooses to incorporate it. That is an honor and a blessing in itself!
Photo by Mae Mu on Upsplash