Jesus feeds the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and even fewer fish – and they’re all satisfied. This is a story that I remember very well as a child – one that just about every Christian child has heard while colouring in a picture of it with crayons.
It’s easy to get caught up in the story and view it as yet another amazing miracle to prove that Jesus was who He said He was…and miss out on more of His lessons to us.
Let’s have this time be different. Here is the story, as told by John:
When we don’t have enough
When I hear Jesus’ question to Philip, and read John’s observation that Jesus knew the answer but was testing him, I can’t help but picture a slight smile on Jesus’ face. His testing appears to me to be filled with love and gentleness. I’m sure there are times when each of us have felt that loving & gentle testing, that calm and reassuring question from deep within that says, “are you sure about that?”
Through this question to Philip, Jesus is testing his faith and his trust that the very challenge at the root of his question (how all of these people will be fed) is not impossible for Him.
How often do we question whether we’ll “have enough” and instead of placing our calm trust in Jesus, we fretfully busy ourselves trying to solve it in our own way – similar to Philip anxiously stating that it will take 200 days wages of labouring to feed all these people.
Our worrying about if we’ll have enough money, or if we have enough time, or if we’ll have enough strength or energy for an upcoming trial…each of these are opportunities for us to turn to Jesus in trust.
That’s easier said than done, but I’d urge you to look back at specific times in your past when you were worried about whether you would have enough…did everything work out, in some unexpected way? The same will always be true for the things that He wants for us – particularly in the “how” it’s provided. Use these memories to reinforce this reminder that you’re in His hands, and that all will be well. Trust.
Praying with gratitude
On two occasions in this gospel, Jesus reminds us of the importance of prayer. In both cases, He’s demonstrating that prayer is not just for God, but for ourselves too.
The first occasion is when He gives thanks for the bread and fish that they have before distributing it to the thousands. Remember, this is before the miraculous multiplication – it’s still just five loaves and two fish. Here He is demonstrating to us the importance of trust and gratitude. Yes, Jesus is thanking God for the gifts of food – something we should always do.
Going a step further, by showing gratitude for the insufficient little that He has, He’s reminding us through this prayer to trust. Praying like this is as much for us as it is for God. We’re reminding ourselves that we don’t need to know the full solution, the “how”, we’re simply grateful that we have Him and know He’ll provide.
Are we prayerfully showing the same gratitude and trust for what we have – particularly when it’s not enough? Or are we too anxious about what we don’t have (or what we think we’ll need)?
Withdrawing to solitude
The second time Jesus teaches us about the importance of prayer is at the end of the Gospel. “Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself.” In this, Jesus is showing us how important times of quiet and solitude are to our souls. While this was done as an “escape” from what the masses wanted to do with him, He’s reminding us that we need similar times, away from our duties, to be quiet and spend time with God.
Also note that He doesn’t bring his iPad, kindle or anything else that would let him “rest”. We too often confuse distractions with the rest we really need. We’ve all been there – end of a long day, we’re tired and irritable and we know we need to recharge. The rest we need will come from God and our “withdrawal to the hills”, not the Netflix show, book or even that glass of wine that we “need in order to relax.”
Where are our hills? Where do we go when we need both rest from our work as well as a full recharge for what’s to come? Finding consistency and depth of prayer during these times is critical for our ability to serve with love.
Taking the first step
Through the combination of Andrew’s contribution and Jesus’ actions, we’re reminded that trust needs to be combined with action. Andrew points out what they do have (rather than what they need). While he still laments at its’ insufficiency, at least he’s aware of their starting point…and that’s enough for Jesus to take action.
When we find ourselves worrying about what we think we need, even when it’s connected to what we believe is His will, we must begin with what we have and immediately take the first step – placing our Trust that if it truly is His will, Jesus will take action. He will provide.
If we’re worried about money running out in two months, place trust in Him and carry on – He will provide in unexpected ways, just as He always has. If we’re worried about having enough time to do everything we think we need to do, place trust in Him and carry on – He will remind us what tasks matter, which don’t, and He’ll fuel us in ways of productivity and steady work. With Him we can accomplish everything that truly matters to Him with time to spare – just like those 12 baskets of bread and fish. Just like those baskets, let’s not let any go to waste and instead use that spare time for our own retreat to the “hills”, where He’s waiting to rejuvenate us.
Think about your lifelong climb to Holiness. It might seem like an impossibly high mountain, especially the further you progress and the more you realise how far you have to go. Give thanks for what you have, trust that Jesus will give you what you need, and just put one foot in front of the other. Jesus will take action.