“8 Questions God Can’t Answer: How Many Loaves Do You Have?” – Mark 6:30-44
Last week – first question – “What do you want?” (about our deepest desires and cravings in life, and really what God wants for us)
This week’s question from the lips of Jesus – story of feeding 5,000 (only miracle in all 4 Gospels). “How many loaves do you have?”
Review context: Jesus & apostles had been teaching about Kingdom of God and doing Kingdom’s work – compassion on hurting people. Busy day – not even time to be physically nourished. Jesus invited them to some solitude… left in a boat. The desires, the cravings, the thirst, the appetites of the crowds of people in the Capernaum area had been stirred up by the teaching and ministry of Jesus and the disciples. They wanted more. So when Jesus and the disciples left in the boat, the people just followed them along the shore, and even arrived and were waiting for the boat to land. Jesus taught some more, but then it was getting toward evening. The disciples’ tummies were probably complaining quite noisily by this time, and whether it was purely selfish or whether they recognized the need of the crowds for some food, they advised Jesus to send the crowds to the villages to buy something to eat. (get rid of them) He put the onus on His disciples: “You give them something to eat.” Strange thing to say – not the church picnic nor the Stampede Breakfast where the disciples had planned to feed 5,000. They didn’t have bread and fruit and vegetables in their back-packs. Nor could they buy and carry enough to feed so many people. Then Jesus asked His question: “How many loaves do you have?”
He was not putting together a shopping list. John’s account tells us that Jesus already knew what He was going to do. “How many loaves do you have?”
Some Bible commentators suggest that, in reality, everyone had brought some food and that the real miracle Jesus performed was to open people’s hearts to be generous in sharing. The Bible account, however, indicates that Jesus’ miracle was to multiply the meager amount that there was. When the disciples did their food inventory, they found only 5 loaves and 2 fishes, a young lad’s lunch. Jesus was testing the disciples’ understanding of true and Godly stewardship.
Stewardship? Is that what this account is about?? Well, there is an aspect of stewardship here, if we can get past the idea of stewardship being about financial management and meeting the church budget. In fact, it’s even more than the time and talents that we often add to our understanding. Stewardship is about the child of God managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes. Wesley Willmer has written “Stewardship is God’s way of raising people, not man’s way of raising money. God’s ways are often about challenging and reshaping our values, our world view. Fundamentally in life, we don’t do what we believe. We do what we value.” Raising people, shaping our values to be Kingdom values – that’s what Jesus was doing.
By asking the question, Jesus was zeroing in directly on what His disciples valued. He was making public what most people prefer to leave private – the question about how much we have, how much we own, and what we do with it. The question created a teachable moment, revealing that our hidden desire to keep and hoard what is ours, to withhold the little or much that we have from others, is often our biggest deterrent to realizing true contentment.
John Busacker identifies five things that we can learn from this miracle of Jesus – one for each loaf of bread.
1. God can and does use any gift offered.
This story: barley bread (of the poor) & small fish (sardines??) Boy – paidariov – youth/lad (no longer a child): easy to be selfish, mine, my lunch (one person), not for sharing. I can’t imagine disciples confiscated the poor guy’s lunch… so I conclude when the young lad found out what all the commotion was about, he offered… He gave it all to Jesus. Kids can be selfish, but sometimes they can be amazingly generous. This story shows that God does amazing things when we offer our gifts – meager as they may be – as faithful stewards.
Two others stories: mites of the widow; humble girl who offered herself as the mother of the Messiah and the simple barn in which He was born.
You may offer your whole life to serve God, you may only offer a few minutes here and there. You may have pledged tens of thousands to our “Plant the Seed” effort to build a new church in Tuscany, or you may only be planning to give $20 or $30 here and there when you can. The quantity of the gift is not as important as the heart that has given it. Sometimes we proudly think the more the better. Sometimes we begrudge what might be expected. Sometimes we might think our little gift doesn’t really matter so we don’t give it. The truth is – God can and does use any gift that we offer, in love, to Him, for the service of others.
2. Church is always found in community.
The second thing we learn is that God’s people are found in community. 5,000 people is a crowd that today we would call a mega-church. There are pros and cons to such a large church. You can offer all kinds of programs, for people in various stations of life, supported by a large staff of church professionals. But some things may distract us… it can be very spectator-like rather than participatory. It can be impersonal, just walking in and out, not really talking to or getting to know anyone. I was at one church where each element of the service was allotted a certain amount of time, and there was a digital count-down at the back of the church so that anyone leading any part of the service would know when they’re supposed to be done. To me, that’s putting the Holy Spirit in a box! One of the hardest things to do in a large church is to intentionally create opportunities for personal relationships to develop. As they were eating, Jesus didn’t just want people to sit there in mega-church spectator silence, or to be looking at the back of the head of the person in front of them. He wanted to create community, so He instructed the disciples to have the people sit shoulder to shoulder in groups of 50 and 100, groups in which they could see each other, smell each other, feel each other, talk to each other, care for each other. Community is one of the values that Jesus desired for the church. Developing community and relationships is Godly stewardship of the people-gifts that God brings together in the church. That’s part of our mission statement: “Connecting people with Christ through relationships.”
3. God is the giver of everything… therefore appreciation is appropriate.
A third thing we learn about stewardship in this story is that God is the giver of everything. Jesus was present and involved when everything was created. Both John 1 and Colossians 1 affirm that truth. Yet here Jesus still has an understanding that everything belongs to God and therefore appreciation is appropriate. Mark tells us He looked up to heaven and gave thanks, genuine thanks, even for 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish.
Eliot Carey explores “How much prayer should a hamburger get,” in a book of the same name that is a compilation of essays about prayer. Carey discusses whether it is right and proper to say grace over the McDonald’s hamburger you have on the way from here to there, and the donut at coffee time, or if such practices end up being a “holier-than-thou” show to onlookers. (I think I’m going to talk more about this on Thanksgiving Sunday.)
For Jesus, it wasn’t a show, it was true thankfulness and true thanksgiving for the gift of that food, and true prayer for blessing and multiplying it for all to share.
When we recognize that everything belongs to God, and that He has entrusted our possessions to us to use and manage for a time, appreciation is appropriate. Take 15 seconds right now, in your minds, to recall and to give thanks for some of the things that God has entrusted to your stewardship.
Assignment: Be deeply thankful for the next two weeks. Notice what you have, from God, pay attention to it, and express your gratitude.
4. We are God’s plan… God works through people.
The fourth stewardship thought in this story is that we are God’s plan… that God works through people. In the feeding of the 5,000, bread and fish didn’t miraculously appear in front of everyone as they sat on the hillside. Nor did Jesus go back and forth like a delivery boy. It says that Jesus gave the bread and the fish to His disciples and they set the food before the people. God doesn’t simply entrust us with things, He plans for us to use those things for the good of others – that’s Godly stewardship.
God could have parted the Red Sea on His own, but He used Moses and Moses’ staff to be the medium for that miracle. Priests were used by God as the mediators of His covenant. Jesus didn’t stay on earth to continually bring the Kingdom of God to bear on people’s lives. He ascended to heaven and commissioned His disciples (and us) to carry on the Gospel-spreading work He had started. He told His disciples they were the salt of the earth, the light of the world, His witnesses to the ends of the earth. God always works through people. He always has. He has no plan ‘B.’
How many loaves do you have? He gives us the bread and the fish, He gives us His many gifts, His gives us the Gospel and then He waits to see if we distribute it to the waiting masses or stuff it deep into our own pockets for those spiritually hungry times that we need it. God has no plan ‘B.’ Set His gifts generously before those who are hungry.
5. The result of God’s provision is contentment.
The last thing Busacker mentions is that the result of God’s provision is contentment. “They all ate and were satisfied,” Mark records. And then the disciples even picked up twelve baskets full of leftovers… perhaps to take to the foodbank.
God provides – that is a Biblical truth that has been borne out through countless generations. Malachi 3:10 – God’s dare: “Bring your tithe… test me and see if I don’t open heaven and pour out blessings.” God provides, God blesses. How much has God blessed you? Are you content?
Paul had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. In his first letter to Timothy, just before he talks about the love of money being a root of all kinds of evil, Paul talks about the value of contentment – contentment with food and clothing. Contentment is a by-product of Godly stewardship.
How many loaves do you have? What are you doing with them? Are you sharing? Are you blessing others as you have been blessed? Are others being satisfied because you set God’s gifts before them? Are you being a good steward of the leftovers?
Those are some good questions to consider as you ponder the wonder of God’s provision.
6. Jesus as Bread of Life.
The wonder of God’s provision… fish & bread.
The people were amazed, and they realized God had done this before! Manna in desert, bread for Elijah in wilderness, Elisha – 20 loaves multiplied to feed 100 men. Feeding of 5,000 with 5 loaves showed that Jesus is God.
Product: Wonder Bread. I wonder what? – fortify white bread with eight essential vitamins and minerals.
One more bread we need to talk about – John’s Gospel… miracle followed up by Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. (Gospel readings in early August) Jesus didn’t come to earth just to make sure we had enough bread to eat, or to supply it with splashy miracles. He came to give us a different kind of bread, a bread that is fortified with spiritual essentials, and that would make us live forever.
On another evening, with His disciples, in a quiet place, Jesus once again took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples… not to distribute to a crowd, but to take for themselves. As He gave it, He said: “This is my body.” “This is my blood,” He added, as He gave them the wine. The very next day, He literally gave His body… as the sacrifice for sins on the cross of Calvary. He took on Himself their sins, and our sins… our sins of selfishness, our sins of lack of contentment, our sins of ingratitude, our sins of poor stewardship, our sins of taking credit for God’s things, our sins of personal pride or contempt of others – He took all our sins. In their place, God offers us forgiveness, and freedom from the curse of sin. He opens heaven and pours out all His blessings in the spiritual realm. God provides more than we want (last week’s question) and more than we need. That is the grace of God. And when Jesus gives the spiritually fortified bread of His body, He multiplies it so that all eat and all are satisfied.
When you eat bread, it goes inside of you. It becomes part of you, and nourishes your body, giving you life. That’s how it is with Jesus. When you believe in Jesus, you let Him inside of you, He becomes part of you, nourishing your mind, your heart, your spirit. When you take the bread He offers in Holy Communion, you let Him inside of you. He becomes part of you, He gives you life, and you are satisfied. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus lives inside of you, and because of that, you will live forever with Him. Wonder bread indeed! Amen.