Better than Wonderbread: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand

*The following is a modified transcript of a lecture I gave at Shawnee State University’s 9th Hour, a student run Christian organization on campus.

It drives me crazy that we so frequently miss the point of “Bible stories.” I can appreciate why so many of us miss the point of stories in the Old Testament. After all they are sometimes hard to understand, removed from us by centuries and it’s easy to overlook the ways that they point us to Jesus (also centuries removed from them). But how we miss the point of stories in the New Testament is mind-boggling. Dont’ get me wrong I do it to, but it just seems like we aren’t paying attention. Take, for example, the story that I want to focus on here: the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. It has been misunderstood often in the average church Sunday School classroom, but the reality is that this story teaches us that Jesus is enough.

I recall hearing it when I was younger too, but far too often people have interpreted this famous miracles as a motivation for children to share. “See, that little boy shared his fish and bread and Jesus was able to feed lots of people. Wasn’t that nice? Don’t you think you should share too? Jesus wants us to share.” Well, that’s all true at some level. And indeed the Bible does offer us motivation to share, but that is hardly the point of this passage. I mean Jesus takes fives loaves of bread, two fish, and feeds over 5,000 people and all we can think to say is “sharing is nice.” I think there’s something more profound going on here! Part of the problem we run into is when we read these stories as if they are isolated events and pull them out of the larger context of the book and chapter they are in. Take for example John 6. The whole chapter deals with a number of themes that help us understand this individual story: the identity of Jesus, bread, and personal desire. Each of these themes will help us understand the story more clearly.

Who is this Jesus? That is a question that the disciples and inquirers of the gospel accounts wrestle with constantly. Here, Jesus is teaching and he notices that there is both a large crowd gathering and that it is getting late. So He asks His disciples where they can get some food to feed all these guests (note that Jesus is concerned for both their spiritual and physical needs). Verse 6 tells us that Jesus asked this question to “test” them. They fail the test. Despite having seen Jesus do miracles already they are bound by the logistics of their situation. Philip points out that not even 8 months salary could buy enough food, and Andrew just says here’s a boy with a sack lunch (which seems completely unhelpful to mention at all). I wonder how we would pass the test. In the face of life’s logistics are you able to say, Jesus you have all you need to make things better? Can we look at our circumstances and believe in Jesus? The disciples fail, but Jesus blesses them and the crowds anyways.

Jesus feeds the people and verse 15 tells us they are so impressed the are ready to “take him by force and make him king.” They see the actions of this man and they want more, they want specific desires fulfilled. They want not what Jesus is offering, but they want freedom from Roman rule. So they are prepared to make him their lord whether He wants it or not. But that is not what Jesus wants, and not certainly the way they want it. The author John tells us it is the season of the passover (v. 4). It is hardly a cursory comment. Throughout the Gospel of John there are three Passover events and at each Jesus does something important. You can recall that the Passover was the event in Israel’s past that they celebrated annually to remember how God had saved them from Egyptian slavery. And it is the event in the disciple’s future when Jesus will sit down with them and redefine it as the reminder of how God saved them from sin, and death, and hell. In verse 35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” It’s an important word and even here in feeding the 5,000 Jesus is signifying that he will soon give himself. But they don’t find that to be enough. They want a King! In verse 25 they come looking for Jesus across the sea and he says, “You are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves” (v. 26). You see the people don’t understand who Jesus is yet and they are not interested in what He wants to offer them (which is himself) they simply want their own desires fulfilled.

I wonder if that is true for us too? I wonder if we might say, “thanks for your death and resurrection Jesus. That’s cool. But what I’d really like is a new job, a relationship, financial stability, recognition at work, good health, etc.” It’s not that we don’t believe in Jesus’ death for us and all, it’s just that we aren’t satisfied with that. We want more loaves! Is Jesus enough for you, though? Do you believe that when He offers you Himself that it can actually satisfy you, it can actually draw out an increase in your faith? Jesus is demonstrating who He is in this chapter. He multiplies fish and bread, he walks on water, and yet the people miss it because they are blinded by their own desires. Do you believe Jesus is enough?

This is a story about far more than sharing, I hope you can see it and I hope it causes you to reevaluate you life. Do you love Jesus…or do you merely love what Jesus could do for you?

Comments

  1. Crazy! I worked on correcting the French version of this same passage (they’re being made into chronological Bible lessons) yesterday. I also thought that it was interesting that Jesus chose to multiply the bread AND the fish, because after living here in Senegal, I’ve seen how much people love fish, but if they can’t afford it, they will just eat bread. Jesus could have easily just given everyone some bread, and that would have satisfied their hunger, but instead, he went above and beyond for the people.

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