Have you ever skipped a familiar Scripture passage because you knew what it meant?
Recently, I was reviewing commentaries, podcasts, and a number of other resources preparing for a Bible study lesson. The lesson was over a well- known passage that is often skipped by most Christians with a, ‘Oh yeah, I know that story.’
From Matthew 14,
14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
In one of the podcasts, a commentator pointed out an interesting connection between this passage and the recent worries over immigration and social justice. And, now, with a cursory glance back at the passage, I’m sure you can see it there as well. If you can’t see the connection, then consider these simple takeaways:
- Jesus says he had compassion for the great crowd.
- Most importantly, he tells the Apostles, “You give them something to eat.”
- Jesus is clear that the crowd does not need to go away, which Charles Spurgeon points out,
‘You give them something to eat,’ is the most important statement. Notice, Jesus did not say, “I’ll do something about it.” He didn’t say, “Tell the religious or political officials.” No. Jesus was very clear to His followers. “You give them something to eat.”
Isn’t that asking a lot for five thousand plus people or all of those people at our border? I suppose if we want to give a fair answer to this, we need to look at the response of the Apostles.
In Matthew’s Gospel, it states, “They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.” In the Gospel of John, though, it is more specific. It is Phillip who asks, “Where shall we buy bread, so that these may eat?”
It’s a fair question. In most problems, we resort to evaluating our resources.
As a husband and father, I know I frequently resort to ‘what does the checkbook say?’ And, unfortunately, the question represents a scarcity mentality.
There is not enough for them. There is barely enough for me. So, really, I can’t help them. The problem is not solved but I can’t do anything about it.
Now, consider Andrew’s response, also noted in the book of John. He says, “There is a lad here who has five barely loaves and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?”
Andrew shows his resources and does not say he can’t help but he does not see how it will help.
For some of us, who can demonstrate ‘abundance’ thinking, we may still hit a threshold and begin looking for help. Perhaps, someone else can do something. Perhaps, the government will step in and do something. But, that is not the lesson. “You give them something to eat.”
The role of Jesus in this story is to bless our efforts. He states, “Bring them here to me.” He blessed the bread and broke it. From there, as the loaves and fish are passed, all “ate and were satisfied.” There was more than enough for the great crowd.
How can that be? It’s a miracle, right?
Would any of those eating recognize that a miracle had taken place? They didn’t know what they had started with or ended with. It was the Apostles who were taught the lesson. And, as followers of Christ, we should learn the same lesson.
There was not a great miracle here but, rather, the simple sharing of all among all. When Jesus said, “You give them something to eat,” everyone responded so everyone ate.
To be clear, this is not a political statement. This is a Christian response to trouble. Jesus said, “They need not go away.” Is the same true here in the United States? If we are a Christian nation, do we feed those who need it?
These are the important questions, not just for considerations of social justice but for theological considerations. Notice, Jesus blessed and broke the bread. He does this later in the Gospel and, as we know, it is significant. He showed us what he would sacrifice. Do we dare turn people away from God’s table of grace and salvation? Do we turn away those in need?
The Lord’s Prayer says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” What if there are some who need us for their daily bread? What if there are some who need us in order to come to the Lord’s table?
“You give them something to eat.”
Jeremy Gallegos is the Division Chair for Religion and Humanities at Friends University. He is an associate professor of Philosophy and Ethics and focuses his research on applied ethics. He is an active member at Woodlawn United Methodist Church in Derby, KS with his wife and two daughters. And, he serves as vice-chair on the Ethics Committee at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, KS.