You Give Them Something to Eat
When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” Mark 6:35-37b
The feeding of a large crowd is one of the miracle stories of Jesus that appears in all four Gospels, albeit in slightly different variations. The core of the story has Jesus teaching to a crowd of about 5,000 men, plus women and children. The hour is getting late, and the disciples are concerned that the people will need something to eat. They ask around and find only a paltry amount of available food – five loaves of bread and two fish, in Mark’s version. It was far too little for so many. Jesus takes the meager offering, raises it to heaven in blessing, and tells the disciples to distribute it to the crowd. Everyone in the crowd eats their fill, and the disciples collect the leftovers, filling 12 baskets.
God miraculously multiplied the small amount of food into an abundance to feed the hungry crowd. The question is this: How did God do it? Did God take a little, apply the Word, and magically transform it into a lot? Perhaps. I do not question God’s ability to accomplish such a feat. My life experience, however, makes me think God may have worked in a different way. Imagine that the disciples had asked people in the crowd what they could contribute to feed the masses, but only a few were willing to contribute a small bit of what they had – five loaves and two fish. Once others saw that some people were contributing, however, their hearts opened and more became willing to offer what they had with them. When the little, which was first offered, was combined with the abundance that was actually in the crowd, there was more than enough for everyone to have their fill. Is this telling of the story any less miraculous than if God alone had created the abundance? I think not. In fact, I find it more compelling.
We see this at church with potluck dinners. The church provides a little and everyone else brings something to contribute to the common meal. The amount of food always exceeds the hunger. Perhaps the feeding of the 5,000 is the biblical version of the story of Stone Soup. In that story, a traveler stops in a town at dinnertime, but can find no one willing to feed him. He takes his pot to the river, fills it with water, and places one round stone in the bottom. He builds a fire in the town square and starts heating the water. Curious townsfolk stop by to see what he is making. He says, “Stone Soup. It’s delicious!” He tells one person it would be better if only he had a few carrots. She says, “I have a few carrots I could bring.” He tells another that onions would be nice. Another person offers seasoning, and others bring potatoes and meat. In the end, they share a delicious and abundant community meal to which everyone contributed, in spite of their initial reluctance.
Here is why I believe the story seems more plausible along the lines of the Stone Soup legend than that God performed a miracle alone: I believe God works through us as much or more than God works for us. God provides the inspiration and the nudging for us to perform generous acts we might not otherwise perform. In the current example, one clue lies in Jesus’ words: “You give them something to eat.” It is a directive to personal action. It reminds me of Jesus’ parting instructions to Peter in the Gospel of John (21:15-19). Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and Peter assures him he does. Jesus responds, “(You) Feed my sheep.” God relies on our hands and hearts to do the physical work of God’s will on earth. Very often, as in the case of the feeding of the 5,000, that work requires a handful of people to begin contributing something, inspiring others to follow suit. There is plenty for everyone when faithful people trust God’s abundant provision and share what they have.
Who should feed the hungry? You (and I) should. God reveals the need and gives us the opportunity to take it from there. God, acting through and with us, is the initiator of miracles.
This is the 33rd in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”
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