The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Jesus and his disciples set off for some time to themselves in the wilderness. It’s not to be – crowds have seen where they are going and reach the place before them. The teaching and the feast which Jesus gives this huge crowd spring from his compassion, the compassion at the heart of God who becomes the shepherd to this flock, leading them to green pastures (Mark’s detail). The crowd are hungry for Jesus’ words – they listen for hours. It is the disciples who realise that the people will be hungry, perhaps because they themselves have not eaten.
Feeding so many, they feel, is beyond their means. We too often face problems which we think are too big for us. This story, though, can fill us with hope.
The hungry disciples give all their food to Jesus. His actions both recall past provision by God and look forward to the kingdom meal at the heart of our faith. Jesus gets the disciples to seat the crowd, as for a feast, in groups. He takes the food and gives thanks to God for it – as at the Passover meal. Then he breaks it; and returns it to the disciples to distribute. Everyone is filled to overflowing, the sign of the generosity of the kingdom of God. From such small means, given willingly though doubtfully, God has more than satisfied the numerous sheep of His pasture.
Let us remember this miracle when we are tired, discouraged and feel insufficient for the needs we see around us all the time. Remember that God takes the little we have and can turn it into more than we ever imagined, as we offer it in thanksgiving and in hope.
Prayer Lord God help us to feed on your words. Give us faith to offer you the little we have, so that together with you, we can feed your sheep Through Your overflowing generosity and abundant love. Amen
The Rev’d Helen Everard, chaplain to the Moderators of General assembly, Wonersh URC