Is this story familiar to you? It more than likely is. As a pastor, it’s often one of those stories people name when they talk about their favorite Bible stories. And, it’s the only miracle of Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More written about in all four Gospel accounts (A tax collector who became one of Jesus' 12 disciples More 14, Mark 6, The "beloved physician" and companion of Paul More 9, John 6).
So why hasn’t it ever spoken to me before?
Many hear the voice of God speak from one of the traditional interpretive angles– abundance. Who wouldn’t get excited by a story about the kind of abundance Jesus displays?!
5,000 hungry people are fed.
Not only fed but satisfied.
With 12 basketfuls of leftover pieces!
With this interpretation we have a front row seat to seeing the nature of God’s abundance revealed in Jesus. And consider that it’s noted 5,000 men but Matthew’s gospel also notes, “…besides the women and children” (Matthew 14:21). Taking family dynamics from the time into consideration, it could actually have been 10,000 or more who were fed!
But that angle still never really spoke to me.
There are yet others who hear God’s voice through another one of the traditional interpretive angles—how it is that in the feeding of the 5,000 we have the promise of Jesus to provide for our needs, physical as well as spiritual.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus first teaches the crowds and heals their diseases.
He feeds their souls.
Then, knowing they are hungry, he feeds their bellies.
In John, it’s just the opposite.
Jesus feeds their hungry stomachs with the bread
and then feeds their souls with his words.
*Side note: if food insecurity ministry is your Passion is the theological term used to describe Jesus' suffering prior to and including his crucifixion. The Passion Narrative (the portions of the Gospels that tell of the Last Supper, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus) are often read in church during Holy Week. More and calling, John 6’s version of events is a solid foundation to build on. This Jesus knows that it’s truly hard to listen and learn when your stomach is talking louder than the teacher is.
And so, God is our provider in all things.
And then there are those who hear God speak as they debate the nature of the miracle itself. Truly, just how did Jesus do it? Or for some, did Jesus even do it at all? Could it be that there were enough people in the crowds who, upon seeing how many others were also hungry, just graciously bypassed the offer of food? So that only those who really needed it actually ate? Or maybe it was, that, having taken even a small crumb blessed by Jesus, it carried a power so great as to make one feel satisfied and full without truly eating more than just that crumb? The speculations abound.
Knowing all of these interpretive angles, I understand why this story is important in the gospel accounts. But they just never really made it too important to me. Of course, I’m not the same 20, 30, or even 40 something minister—or person—that I was. Those were the days of my ministry and life when I felt young and strong. Almost like I had it all.
I could stay up all night at a youth lock-in and still go work 8–10 hours the next day. I could walk miles with congregants on hiking expeditions, campers at camp, or youth at the amusement park. I could lead multiple worship services in a weekend after having led more than one funeral service in the week. I could teach Bible studies and prepare sermons and give pastoral counseling and visit the hospitals and teach confirmation.
And I could still be the daughter who flew home on holidays to see her parents. I could drive for hours to take day trips wherever I wanted to go. I could walk my dogs for miles and play ball with them. I could dance and jump and leap and sing and feel energized after. I could do almost anything I set my mind to.
But when I turned 50, I came into a season of losses. Chronic pain issues increasingly stole my mobility and my confidence in safe movement. Depression took my energy and my focus and my sense of true enjoyment. Unexpected issues that arose within my earlier ministries depleted my finances. And let’s not talk about the kind of losses that the COVID pandemic wrought in all corners of my world.
Worst of all, I lost one of my best friendships, I lost my confidence, and I lost my dad.
And now the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 is finally alive and speaking to me.
I can remember the exact moment I stood in front of my smartphone, propped just so on the mini easel on top of a stack of books on the communion table, recording yet another worship service all by myself in an empty A sanctuary is the consecrated area around the altar of a church or temple. It also means a place of safety where one can flee for protection. In the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, God is referred to as a sanctuary, a refuge from... More. My mind was a foggy mess. My hips and legs felt wobbly and unsteady standing there. We had adapted over and over and over and over again to the shifting protocols and sentiments around us. I felt empty and exhausted and just about “done” with everything going on in my life and community.
And I found myself looking up to the heavens, lifting my two empty hands and praying:
I have just about nothing left to give right now. But take these words I am about to preach as my two fish and five loaves and use them as you will to feed your people.
And that’s when it hit me. When you truly feel like you just don’t have enough, put whatever you can give in the hands of Jesus and it will always be plenty.
Now, through my season of loss, I have begun to realize that instead of focusing on what I no longer have, what I can no longer do, or even what I’ve never had/could do, I just need to look at what I do have and what I can do and trust that with Jesus it is always going to be enough.
I will always be enough.
And now, here I stand.