My thoughts (Theresa Benson):
In researching today’s passage, I found all kinds of interesting ideas we could take away from this story. Some scholars found meaning in the five loves made from barley. They theorized that the number five represented the five books of the Torah, and barley, which is difficult to harvest but rich in flavor once you get to the kernel, similar to the old laws, hard and firm, but rich in tradition.
Others discussed the differences between Philip’s and Andrew’s responses to Jesus’ question. They point out that Philip was over-thinking things a bit, and Andrew, while obedient, was ashamed of what little he’d found to offer Jesus.
Now here’s something I didn’t realize: this particular story, of all the miracles recounted in the Bible, is the only one which appears in all four Gospels. Why? Why a miracle about fish, loaves, and hungry people instead of, say, the raising of Lazarus from the dead? Why is this story so important?
Here’s what I think. This one story captures a fundamental teaching on how to relate to God and each other. It’s so basic and important that I think each of the Gospel writers included it in the hopes that we’d “get it.”
Here’s what I see in this story:
- While Andrew and Philip freak out a little that they don’t have enough for everyone, Jesus has the crowd sit down and get comfortable. (When things seem impossible, God tells us to be still and remain calm — things are still under control.)
- Then, this little boy turned over everything he had, not questioning if it was enough, or feeling embarrassed it wasn’t very much, just giving what he had. (How many times have we looked at what we’ve got and thought we didn’t have anything to offer? (I don’t know how, I can’t learn, I’m not smart enough, I’m not “x” enough…) Don’t you love little kids who haven’t yet learned insecurity, and how they give and love and imagine in a way we adults have forgotten?)
- After Jesus blessed everything, he personally didn’t hand it out to the multitude. He gave it to his disciples, who in turn handed it out. (God blesses the gifts we give, and then works though us to give spiritual nourishment to others.)
- Everyone’s fed until they’re full. (In life, there’s plenty for everyone; God isn’t a God of scarcity, but rather, a God of abundance.)
- Jesus has them pick up the leftovers to take with them. (God is a God of abundance, but not gluttony. And, no matter little or much we give for God’s purposes, we will always get more than enough in return.)
So the next time I get exasperated and don’t know how to get out of whatever pickle I’m in, I’m going to follow the example of today’s message: I’ll sit down, take a deep breath, give my faith to God, and trust that God knows there’s a solution — and in return, God will give me answers in abundance, and my faith will grow by leaps and bounds, I’m sure.
Thought for the day: It may sound trite, but it’s not: What do I need to give to Jesus today?
We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to begin, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.