In Part 1 I introduced some thoughts, based on the familiar story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, about what I consider to be his typical way of feeding hungry people. The disciples wanted him to “send them away!” but fortunately he had a better idea, which I believe was more than unique to that one day’s good work, but a pattern for how he often goes about providing food enough for all to eat. Last time I said:
He begins with the little we have, multiplies it and uses us as distributors, and we consume it together in community.
Let’s take a look at the second and third of these.
He multiplies it and uses us as distributors
His reply to their suggestion to send everyone away to fend for themselves wasn’t, “No don’t send them away. I’ll feed them. Just watch this. You’re going to be blown away. Stand back, I’m gonna fix this, because that’s what I’m here for. I fix stuff as proof that I am God, the God who fixes things!”
Of course he is God, and as such he does fix stuff, and he doesn’t need our help to do it. Nevertheless, it seems that the vast majority of how he fixes and feeds and teaches and reaches people is through other people.
He took the boy’s lunch, multiplied it, and gave it to his distribution team. Granted, no one besides the boy would have eaten that day without his crazy miracle. The disciples couldn’t have made all that food! He gets all the glory for making a lot out of a little. Nevertheless, even though he multiplied the bread and fish without their assistance, he did insist that the disciples get involved in the distribution of it. I propose that’s pretty much how he rolls today, helping people to help people.
It sorta seems like he’d get more credit if he didn’t include us in the process, doesn’t it? You know, just drop food out of the clouds (like he did in wilderness)! Let’s be clear, no credit goes to us for simply handing out what he’s handed to us. He gets the glory because that’s where it belongs. But herein lies the genius of his arrangement of involving us in helping one another. As his Heavenly Parcel Service (HPS) we distribute what he gives us, he gets the glory, we get to partner with the Creator of all bread and all fish, and people are fed. Win-win!
If the only thing that mattered to God was to show people what he can do by feeding them supernaturally I guess he’d still be delivering manna from the sky, but his plan has to do with more than showing up and showing off. He likes it when his kids are at his side delivering take-out orders around the world.
It occurs to me that with a crowd as big as twelve thousand (5000 men + women and children) it would be unlikely that every person there would have even been within eye shot of his multiplication miracle. It’s not like they could see it unfold on a Jumbotron or on their smart phones. At the end of the day the word would’ve gotten out how it actually happened, but at the time they probably just thought somebody had ordered a trainload of takeout. All they probably saw was the disciples running around with baskets of food.
There’s one other thing I’ll mention about the Jesus way of distributing resources. You’ll notice that he ordered the twelve to organize the twelve thousand into groups of hundreds and fifties. Not only did he want the twelve to deliver the food, but he wanted everyone to be in close enough proximity to one another so they could actually know who they were dining with!
We consume it together in community
For you “systems engineer” types, I concede that there was a simple element of strategic convenience involved in putting the people in small groups. Rather than trying to distribute the food to one big mob of twelve thousand, Jesus’ plan made it more manageable and more possible for everyone to get their fair share. But I think there was something more than practicality at play here.
Craig Greenfield makes the point that Jesus “was forming temporary mini-communities so they could break bread together, relationally.” I tend to agree, and that Jesus had in mind something more than mere food and the most convenient way to distribute it. As opposed to a big mob of fans, he was creating a community of friends, spiritual family. By putting them in smaller groups he insinuated the priority of community.
Think about it, he didn’t have a lot of time left, and he needed to reinforce their need for each other. He didn’t need the kid’s lunch in the first place or the disciples to share it or the small groups for ease of distribution. He could’ve done another manna miracle and showered sliders and small Pepsis out of the sky. But he wanted to show them how he works his best miracles––through people.
I like to speculate about what happened in those small groups. I imagine them, not only eating together, but talking together, wondering together, and celebrating together about what was happening. I think he brought them to that grassy knoll for more than food and even more than hearing his heaven-sent words. The bread and fish were ancillary to his lessons about himself and about the kind of community he was creating.
In these “community groups” it would’ve been less likely that some would get less than their share. It would have insured greater equitability between the weak and the strong. The sturdier would not have been able to take advantage of those too frail to access their portion. Not everyone in a mob of Jesus fans possesses a humble spirit of generosity. The weaker members of the “Body” tend to be overlooked in massive crowds of his admirers. History proves that smaller groupings of followers tend to facilitate discipleship more readily than large mobs of fans.
Jesus made a little into a lot, distributed it through the disciples, and to reinforce mutuality and equitability, he put them in groups small enough to have to look each other in the eye. This is how Jesus feeds hungry stomachs and souls. He uses the little we have, multiplies it, disseminates it through people, and sits us down to enjoy the meal together.
While some of the people ate the meal that day and rejected the message (John 6), others were nourished by both, as later they lived it out in community:
Though everyone left with a full stomach that day, some just came for the bread. Others fell in love with Jesus determined to live out his message in community:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved… Acts 2:42-46