Summary: A look at the feeding of the 5,000 and the lessons it has for us today.
Someone wrote a few years back: “A basketball in my hands is worth about $19. A basketball in Michael Jordan’s hands is worth about $33 million. It depends whose hands it’s in. A baseball in my hands is worth about $6. A baseball in Mark McGuire’s hands is worth $19 million. It depends whose hands it’s in. A tennis racket is useless in my hands. A tennis racket in Pete Sampras’ hands is a Wimbledon Championship. It depends whose hands it’s in. A rod in my hands will keep away a wild animal. A rod in Moses’ hands will part the mighty sea. It depends whose hands it’s in. A sling shot in my hands is a kid’s toy. A sling shot in David’s hand is a mighty weapon. It depends whose hands it’s in. Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches. Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in God’s hands will feed thousands. It depends whose hands it’s in.”
Jesus’ hands transformed everything he touched. A blind man once lived in a black vortex, but touched by Jesus’ hands color and movement flooded his life. A leper’s body was diseased and rotting, he was covered with shame and no one would come near him out of fear — that is until Jesus touched the untouchable and his body was made whole and his relationships were restored. A widow’s son died, and his death meant excruciating loss to her in every way. But as they carried the young man’s body on a stretcher, taking it to a dark tomb while his soul was taking its place in the realm of the dead, Jesus’ hands held him and he smiled at his mother as life pulsed through his body. The funeral procession stopped and a dance began. And in our Scripture reading for today, Jesus’ hands take common bread and a couple of fish, and as he touches it, it multiplies. He breaks the bread for all to see and eat. Before, the crowds could only stare at the few loaves and fish held, as they drooled with the thought of having a few bites. But there was not enough for 5,000 or even 50. (Actually, the number of those present was more like 15,000 or 20,000, because there were 5,000 men, not counting women and children. Women and children weren’t important to most people, but Jesus wasn’t most people.) Here was a God who was not looking down on the world trying to see what he could get from his subjects and control them, but a God who was genuinely touched by human need.
I was struck as I read this passage several times this week at how it begins. Jesus withdraws to a deserted place to be by himself. He has been pressed on every side for days, weeks and months. And it is worse than being pursued by paparazzi who only want to take a picture, because people are not only following him everywhere he goes, but everywhere there are outstretched hands, often grabbing hands, and pleading voices rising out of a sea of sorrow, sickness, pain and need. (There were no doctors or medicine, of course.) Everyone wanted something from him, and he had been giving to everyone who came. So now he has an opportunity to be by himself, to rest, to take a deep breath, to think and pray. These are the kind of moments that busy people who are always around others fantasize about. No noise, no voices, no people, just to be alone for awhile. But as I began to read the next sentence again in the NRSV, I was struck by two words: “But when...” “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. And it is followed by the words, “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Matthew 14:13-14). There is an interruption. The plan of getting away for some alone time has been sabotaged. The people are running along the shore as they keep an eye on the sail of Jesus boat on Galilee. They followed him on land. He is off in his boat so he can be alone, but they are not going to let that happen. Their needs are too great. As he lands, the people are already there waiting for him.
You might expect that he would be exasperated, but instead the Bible says, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” If it were most of us, we would have had irritation, but he had compassion. He put his needs aside and ministered to the needs of those around him. What he wanted did not come before what everyone else wanted. He was not self-centered, but centered on the needs of those he loved — people he did not even know personally.