One of my favourite Jesus stories is, when in the middle of the wilderness, he miraculously feeds 5000 with five bread rolls and two dried fish – the packed lunch of a small boy. Let me tell you how the story unfolds and then why its been on my mind lately.
Jesus and his leadership team full of misfits and the maladjusted (I am looking at you Peter) had been engaged in an intense season. Jesus’ notoriety had spread, and everywhere he and his disciples travelled, crowds desperately pressed him – to teach and to heal. Slowly, and in fits and starts, the disciples were learning on the go as Jesus’ apprentices. Still, they more often got things wrong than right.
Jesus recognises the need for some down time. He arranges for a short boat ride across Lake Galilee to a ‘quiet place’ where he and his disciples can rest. But rumors run faster than their boat can sail. When they land, a crowd desperate for more of Jesus and what he can offer, is waiting, having used their local knowledge to anticipate their destination.
Jesus sees the crowd and is immediately filled with compassion – a visceral reaction to their desperation. Moved to respond, he sets aside his rostered day off plans and spends the whole day teaching them in a natural outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the lake shore.
Hours later, the sun arcing towards setting – Jesus’ team are anxious. Thousands of people are a long way from home and haven’t eaten all day. There’s no Maccas nearby, and phone reception is pretty dodgy – so Uber Eats is out of the question! Feeling ‘hangry’ themselves, they demand Jesus send the crowd home before they have a hunger-induced riot on their hands. Jesus tells them, ‘You give them something to eat’, really ticking them off. The disciples are all dirt poor, having left behind careers and livelihoods to go on the road with Jesus. Here’s where it gets interesting.
The lunch of a small boy is commandeered – five small loaves of bread, not much bigger than a dinner roll, and two dried fish. Jesus prays over it, hands it back to the still ticked-off disciples and tells them to feed the crowd. Their frustration rapidly morphs into astonishment as no matter how much they hand out; they still have more. In the end everyone is fed and filled, with twelve basketfuls of leftovers to spare. It was yet another Jesus’ miracle, this time performed through the reluctant hands of his disciples.
There’s a small detail in the story that grabs me. We’re told it was bread made from barley the boy surrendered to the disciples. In Jesus’ day, barley bread was known as the bread of the poor. At one end you have (overpriced) artisan sourdough made from organic wheat flour bought at some inner-city market, and at the other end – barley bread, no frills and affordable. Jesus takes the lunch of a poor boy and miraculously multiples it into a feast for 5000.
There are days, some recently, when I feel all I have to offer others is the equivalent of a few inadequate barley loaves and a couple of smelly fish. There are times when I feel the resources at my disposal – time, energy, wisdom – aren’t up to the challenges and opportunities right in front of me. But then I remember what Jesus can do with a few dry barley loaves and a couple of smelly fish when surrendered to him.
So, here’s what I do. Most days start with me surrendering with open hands – surrendering what I have and who I am to Jesus – knowing that in his hands my limited resources can and will be multiplied into more than enough for the day ahead.
Today, this week, you might be feeling overwhelmed by what’s in front of you. Can I encourage you to take a leaf from that anonymous boy’s story and surrender what you have in your hands, who you are in your heart, to a God who is both tender and kind, asking him to multiply your inner resources miraculously.