How to Feed 5,000 People
There are two stories that occur in Matthew 14 -- two stories I've heard and known since I was a kid in Sunday School. Story #1: Jesus feeds the multitude with two fish and five small loaves of bread.
Story #2: Jesus walks on water and Peter briefly joins him.
It's difficult to think of two more familiar stories in Matthew's Gospel (outside, obviously, of the birth of Jesus and the crucifixion/resurrection sequence). Even people who haven't read the Bible much know these two stories.
What's unfamiliar is the reason these two stories happen back-to-back -- the link between them.
To begin with, Jesus' cousin (John the Baptist) has just been killed. This makes Jesus sad, and what he really wants is to get away from things for a while -- to be quiet and mourn and spend some time alone with his heavenly Father. This much is understandable.
But when Jesus gets to his lonely place, there are people everywhere. They've followed him!
Instead of being angry or frustrated (which would have been my response!), Jesus has compassion on them and heals the sick people they've brought to him.
Some time passes and the disciples say, "Hey, Jesus, it's getting kinda late. Maybe you should wrap up this whole healing seminar thing and let these folks go somewhere to get some dinner."
Jesus responds, "They don't have to go anywhere. You feed 'em!"
Now, how in the world do you feed 5,000 people on the fly when you didn't think to bring a truckload of supplies?
Following Jesus isn't always easy. A lot of times I'll see something -- some desperate need out there in the world -- and I'll pray, "God, can you do something about that?" And his response is, "You do it." Honestly, I hate it when that happens. And it happens way more than I pretend it does.
The disciples quickly look around and show him the tiny amount of food they have available: a couple of fish and a few small loaves of bread. They do not show him this as a way of saying, "If we slice the bread really thin and spread the fish out just right then maybe...." No, they show him their meager offering as a way of saying, "We can't do what you want us to do, and here's a good legitimate reason why."
That's usually what I say when he says "You do it." I say, "I can't, and it's not that I don't want to. It's that I really can't. I don't have enough stuff to do it. See?"
Jesus says, "Bring it here."
He prays over it, tears a hunk off and hands it back to the disciples. What are they gonna do now? Eat it themselves?
They don't know how to feed 5,000 people with this little sack lunch, but they do know how to turn and hand what they have to someone else. So, they do what they can do, and Jesus does what only he can do. And that's how you feed 5,000 people.
Tomorrow we're going to talk about how to walk on water.