A Little... It Is Enough
Lessons from the Feeding of the 5,000
The Rev. Kenneth Fink
It is important to set the stage for what is happening. John the
Baptist has been killed by Herod on a whim (Matthew 14:13-21). Jesus and
the disciples are headed for a quiet place, a lonely place. There is a
need for time to pray, to think, to reflect on what has happened and on
what is yet to come. Crossing the Galilee by boat in those days is a lot
like taking a slow boat to China today. There are faster ways to get
When Jesus and the disciples arrive at a lonely place, the crowd was
already there, waiting for them. They were waiting for Jesus. Most of us
would have felt like getting back in the boat and going on to another
place. Sorry, we're looking for a quiet place, not a crowd. But Jesus had
compassion on them and healed their sick. Instead of a quiet day, it
became a usual day.
People -- men, women and children -- came to see Jesus. Some came to be
healed. Others just to watch the happening. They came to hear Jesus teach.
They came just so they could tell others that they had seen Jesus. Late in
the long day, when it was evening and there was a lull, the disciples
gathered around Jesus. There was Jesus in the middle, with the disciples
gathered around him and the huge crowd spread all around them, still
waiting and watching. It's as if the disciples had formed an ad hoc
committee to look over the situation and report to Jesus.
"While you've been healing and teaching, we've been out looking things
over. Do you realize how many people are here? We estimate there are 5,000
men, plus women and children. They must have all left home in a hurry
because none of them brought food to eat. We've canvassed the crowd and
there's no food."
"Well, Andrew did find one boy whose mother made him bring along
a meal. But that is only five loaves of bread and two fish. What is that
among so many? And, as you well know, the treasury cannot buy enough food
to feed this crowd, even if there was a city close by that could sell
enough food for everyone to get a little. So this is our recommendation:
This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to
go into the villages and buy food for themselves. It's the only sensible
thing to do."
Jesus, having heard their report, responds: "They need not go away, you
give them something to eat."
Wouldn't you like to have seen the look on their faces at that? They
did their homework, made a good report under adverse circumstances; and
Jesus acts like He heard not a word. "They need not go away, you give them
something to eat."
"But there are only five loaves and two fish here. That's it. That's
all there is." Then Jesus says, "Bring them here to me. They need not go
away, give them something to eat." As they go, can't you hear them
muttering to themselves: "Five loaves and two fish among 5,000 plus
people, boy, oh boy, what a fiasco this is going to be."
Of course, you know the rest of the story. Jesus takes the five loaves
and two fish, looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves and gives
them to the disciples, who give them to the people. And they all ate and
were satisfied, with 12 baskets of leftovers for good measure.
This is such an important event that it is recorded in all four
gospels, the only miracle which is told in Matthew, in Mark, in Luke and
in John. By all means, marvel at the compassion of Jesus and at the number
of people who were fed that day. It tells us much about Jesus, but it also
tells about those who follow Jesus.
Are we not to this very day, much like those first followers of Jesus?
We are all too fond of committees. We will do an analysis of most any
situation and decide what cannot be done. And have good reasons for it. As
did the disciples on that not so quiet day in a not so lonely place. All
too often we look in our basket or in the group's basket, hum, five loaves
and two fish again, still. There is little or nothing that we can do with
only five and two. What are they among so many?
And we are ready to send them away ... again. Let them go and buy food
for themselves. If they would only work harder, then they wouldn't be
hungry. If they didn't have so many children, there would be more food for
everyone. Look over the situation, check out the available resources --
five loaves and two fish again, five loaves and two fish still. Send them
away, before it's too late to buy food for themselves, to fend for
Let them go to the Mental Health Center, or the Department of Social
Services, or to the next place down the street. Just send them on their
way. Jesus, just send them away. And Jesus looks at us, His present day
disciples, and says: "They need not go away, you give them something to
eat." Ask not so much what we can't do, but rather, what can we do with
what we do have? Hear clearly the message of the feeding of the 5,000 for
the followers of Jesus. "They need not go away, you give them something to
Jesus looks us in the eye, we who favor our committees, who sit on our
hands, and who cling to the resources we do have. Jesus says, "You do
something, you give them something to eat, you find a place for them."
Again and again we have so little, we think we have only five loaves and
two fish, a few dollars, a possible shelter site, maybe, a new
congregation with a little of this and that. Jesus says, "Bring them to
me." Jesus blesses and uses it and it is enough. And it is enough.
The Rev. Kenneth Fink is a pastor in the North
Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This essay
appeared in the Summer 1994 issue of Faith in Action.
© Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Summer 1994 issue of Faith
in Action. Articles from Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA
and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
Copyright 1996, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.