John 6: 1-13 (MsgB)
After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed Him, attracted by the miracles they had seen Him do among the sick. When He got to the other side, He climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by His disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews. When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, He said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what He was going to do. Philip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.” One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted. When the people had eaten their fill, He said to His disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
I’ve found over the years that the Gospels can be read from varying perspectives. I think the most common approach used by most of us is to read these NT narratives and reflect on how magnificent Jesus is. In the case of this very familiar story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, we read John’s words and stand amazed at the power of Jesus to feed thousands of people with only two fish and five hunks of bread.
But might I suggest a new perspective when reading this familiar story? Read it once more, and this time, try looking at the story from the perspective of the disciples, those appointed by Jesus to be the future overseers of His newly-founded church. Put yourself in their place. Imagine the feelings Jesus’ friends might have had when they are faced with the overwhelming assignment Jesus has put them in.
Picture this. Here you are, out in the wilderness. Well over 5,000 and possibly up to 8,000 people, if you count women and children. All here to see and hear the Master Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. By 21st century standards, this was a very big public ‘event’. A gathering of great proportion. Jesus and His team have hit the big time and this is a watershed event. A gathering of people so large, only the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee can contain it.
If this event had occurred in Rome, the Coliseum would have been needed to house it. But here we are, far removed from the nearby villages that can offer any possible solution to the problem at hand. 5,000+ hungry people plus no food on hand equals one big logistical headache. And now, Jesus leans over to one of His friends and basically says, “Philip, I’m the teacher here. You and the guys are in charge of catering. Go to it, man.”
Now, in that context, place yourself in the role of Jesus’ followers. Tell me, honestly what you might be feeling right now as you look at the hungry crowd of over 5,000 people and Jesus has just put you in charge of setting up a cafeteria line. Gulp.
John, our author, even gives us a hint on what is actually going on here behind the scene. He says that Jesus has set up a situation where Philip and his friends are going to learn a quick ‘hands-on’ lesson in the stretching of faith. To be honest, if I’m one of the disciples in this mess, my faith doesn’t feel stretched; it is downright stretched out, broken in pieces, and falling helplessly to the floor!
So what would you do if placed in this situation?
Keep in mind, the disciples didn’t have the luxury that we do in being able to open up their Bibles and remind themselves of the amazing ways Jesus of Nazareth multiples food in the wilderness!
What would you do? What would I do, oh great ‘leader’ of God’s people?
Panic? Quit the team? Run away?
Or maybe you’re one of those dynamic, visionary church leaders. Maybe you’d say to the others, “Hey guys, don’t panic. We can solve this thing. I know. Let’s take up an offering.” Or maybe you’d pull out one of those fund-raising thermometers, get the crowd’s attention and begin a tell-n-sell session with one of those ‘following Jesus by opening up your wallet’ speeches. Let’s see, 5,000 men. If everyone here tithes, we can raise at least 50,000 denarii. That would certainly buy enough food for us all, wouldn’t it? Or wait, let’s call in one of those professional fund-raising services and they can help us work the crowd.
Now, I’m being factious here, but I hope you’re getting my point. As I see it, Jesus is still, yet today, working the crowds, bringing together situations that will totally overwhelm us as ‘leaders’, just as this event overwhelmed His first century co-workers. And rather than looking to ourselves for solutions, or leaning upon our own understanding, I’m guessing Jesus is still looking at us and asking us how we will respond to these overwhelming situations He puts us in.
As one pastor told me years ago, “God often offends the mind, in order to reveal the condition of our hearts.” In truth, Jesus offends the minds of His first-century disciples, placing them intentionally into problems that are far above their ability to solve them through human wisdom or natural prowess. No earthly solution will be found when we’re faced with such a faith-stretching dilemma.
So now, my friends, the question remains. What will we do when we are faced with the impossible? Will we try our best to solve things our way or will we choose to defer to the One who has answers beyond our human leadership skills and fleshly wisdom?
My prayer: Jesus, quite honestly, when I look at this story of the crowd and the fish and the loaves set in the hills around the Sea of Galilee, I’m struck with panic that I would feel if You turned to me in that setting and said, “Marty, feed my sheep”. So why am I so confident and comfortable with the way I approach doing Your ministry today? Could it be that I’m forgetting how truly impossible it is from my human strength to do the things You actually ask me to do? May You restore back to me the same humble reliance Your first disciples had to have in You as I face my unsolvable ministry situations today. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: How might I be ignoring the Kingdom truth found in this Gospel account? The truth that participating with Jesus’ ministry will often place me, as a disciple, into situations that are far above my head and outside my comfort zone? How have I normally responded to these types of challenges? Am I most often found striving to find human solutions to heavenly problems? If so, how can I adjust my responses so that I defer more to Jesus and His power to ‘lead’ the way?
So what is God speaking to you today as we follow Jesus the Nazarene, the Leader of the Church?
Between now and the end of 2015, we will be sharing with you a blog series we first developed in 2013. We call it Follow The Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John. In order to keep all 46 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Follow The Leader home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
Click here to go onto the next blog in the series.