Why Bread & Fish?

If I had to pick my favorite story in the Bible, it would be the story of the bread and fish. You might know it as “The Feeding of the Five Thousand.”

John 6:1-14, where the story is found in the Bible, was one of the first passages that I remember really grasping firsthand. Having grown up in a Bible-saturated environment, I had heard countless Bible stories. However, it was always from a teacher or preacher, second-hand so to speak. There is no doubt that I had heard this story dozens of times before. However, my freshman year in college I read it firsthand for the first time.

I read and reread the story from the perspectives of all the important characters. But the one that gripped my heart was the perspective of the boy with the five small loaves and two small fish. I had never related to a Biblical character on such a personal level, and I am not sure I have since.

Four things stood out to me about this boy.

He was surrounded by people who were in need of what he had.

Thousands of people had followed Jesus up the side of a mountain. The Lord expressed his concern for them by asking his disciples where they may buy bread for the people. We can only guess how hungry the people were, or whether they expected to be fed. However, we can be sure why Jesus pointed out the need. He wanted to do something for them, and “he knew what he would do.”

Enter the boy with his food. As Jesus’ sermon drew to a close, he no doubt felt the hunger pain that all church kids feel at the end of a long service. But so did everyone else around him. He had something that other people needed.

As I look at our world, I see people in need everywhere. Multitudes need water, food, and shelter. Multitudes need deliverance from injustice. Even where all material needs are met, multitudes need a reason to continue an otherwise meaningless existence. Multitudes do not know why they are here because they do not know who put them here.

I feel like the boy who, for no other reason than the grace of God, has been blessed to have something that other people need.

What he had to offer was insignificant compared to the problem.

Thousands of hungry people surrounded him, and all he had was a meal for one, some bread and some fish. As Jesus’ disciple Andrew said, “What are they for so many?” The disciples did not simply disregard him as part of the solution. You get the feeling that they were a bit annoyed at the mere suggestion that he could help at all. 

No one would have blamed the boy for not helping because no one could have expected so little to do so much. But, little is much when God is in it! Jesus was about to show them what he knew he would do. He has done more with less. In fact, the less he had to work with, the more glory he gets when the work is done.

As I look at what I have to offer the world, it is not much in comparison to the problems this world has. In fact, I may be tempted to think that there is no way I could be a part of any significant solution. However, my life is not about what I have but about what God can do with what I have.

My life is not about what I have but about what God can do with what I have.

I feel like the boy who had so little compared to the problem that surrounded him, but my insignificance only makes God’s greatness more apparent.

He had options.

The disciples were busy thinking through the financial impossibility of feeding that many people. The little bit of food the boy had must have seemed like a waste of time to even consider. So, it is safe to assume that offering up his food was the boy’s choice. No one was forcing him to do so.

He could have kept his food to himself. He could have found some privacy and enjoyed his meal. After all, those people should have known better than to wander into the wilderness unprepared. Maybe next time they will have learned their lesson. He could have kept it all to himself, and no one would have blamed him.

He could have distributed his food by himself. He could have taken it upon himself to distribute his food among the people around him. He would have been able to provide a snack to a few, a moment of relief from the building hunger. The few people he could have reached certainly would have been appreciative, but definitely not filled.

The first choice would have been understandable but selfish. He would have been full and no one else. The second choice would have been noble but minimally helpful. A few people would have been slightly relieved. But, the real tragedy of both options is this: he would not have seen what Jesus could do with what he had.

As I look at my life, I see that I have options. I can use my abilities, resources, and opportunities to benefit me and mine. Or I can take it on myself to see how many people I can help with the time and energy that I have. However, I would miss seeing what Jesus can do with what I have.

I feel like the boy, eager to see Jesus do infinitely more with my life than I could ever do on my own.

He is not the hero of his story.

We do not know much about this boy. He is referred to in the most generic terms possible. He was probably Jewish, but not necessarily. He could have been from a wealthy family, but he could have been an orphan. He could have been anywhere from twelve years old to his early twenties. Really, being a boy seems inconsequential. He does nothing in the story that his sister could not have done. We don’t even get his name.

Why would the apostle John fail to include any of these details? Because you don’t need much information for supporting cast. The most important detail about his boy’s life is that he is not the hero of his story. Jesus is.

As I look at my life, I see myself constantly trying to be the hero. I try to be the husband my wife needs me to be and the father my children need me to be. I try to be the teacher my students need me to be. I try to be the thinker the world needs me to be. Yet, every day I am reminded that the multitude is far too great, my meal is far too small, and I am far too limited to do anything about it. So I give what I have to Jesus. He makes infinitely more out of what little I have.

I feel like the boy because I am not the hero of my story. Jesus is.

3 Questions

In the front of my classroom, I have three questions posted for my students to see daily. They are the type of questions that are meant to provoke other questions.

“What hunger do you see?”

Look around you. What problem can you just not seem to get out of you mind and heart? It is the problem physical? emotional? local? international? Now, do you really think it is an accident that this problem occupies so much of your attention? Or do you suppose this is a problem you were meant to address?

“What meal do you have?”

Look at yourself. What do you have that can be used to address the problems you see? What abilities do you have? What are you passionate about? What opportunities do you have? What experiences have you had that motivate and inform you? Now, do you really think it is an accident that your life has come together is this way? Or do you suppose there is a purpose for it all?

“Who is the hero of your story?”

Look at your options. What do you plan to do about all this? Are you going to spend your life accumulating and consuming as much as you can? Are you going to spend your life spreading yourself out to help has many people as possible? Or, are you going to give what you have to Jesus and allow him to exceed your wildest expectations?

Bread and fish. That’s all the boy had. That is all I have. That is all any of us have.

I honestly do not know what Jesus will do with my life, with my family, with my teaching and writing. But, Jesus knows exactly what he will do.

So, here it is. Here is my bread and fish.

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