Weekly Meditation - 6th August 2017
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is one of the best known in the Bible; it is recorded in each of the gospels. It all began because Jesus wanted some peace and quiet after he heard of the violent death of his cousin, John the Baptist. Piecing the sequence of events together from the various accounts, it appears that Jesus and his disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee and a crowd of people ran round the lake so that they were there to meet Jesus as he landed. Rather than being impatient, not to say furious, he had compassion on them; the sick were healed and he taught the people “many things” (Mark 6 v 24). As the day wore on, the disciples became concerned for the multitude of people without food and so far from home. All they had was five loaves (small barley loaves according to John 6 v 9) and two fish, yet from this modest amount of food, Jesus fed the entire crowd of “five thousand men, besides women and children” (v 21), so probably over ten thousand people.
Bible scholars and others have, from time to time, disparaged this story, claiming that probably everyone had a picnic up his or her sleeve, and only admitted it when one brave boy (mentioned in John 6 v 9) offered to share his food. That is seriously to underestimate the lavish provision that God made on this occasion. An enormous crowd of people ate “and were satisfied” and twelve basketfuls were left over (v 20). That does not sound like the sharing out of hurriedly packed lunches, snatched up before people ran off to interceptJesus. The people had seen Jesus embarking, and in their eagerness had rushed to the opposite side of the lake, most likely without stopping to take anything.
When I was told this story at infants school, I can remember how my teacher conveyed the urgency with which the people would have set off to hear Jesus. Embroidering the story a little, she explained how one little boy ran to tell his mother where he was going, and because his father had recentlycaught some fish, and there was freshly baked bread, she sensibly delayed him long enough to put together a picnic before he ran to catch up with the others. He would have been an exception, though. It is more than likely that most people had no food with them, and that this truly was a miracle.
The scriptures are full of images of the lavishness of God – cups running over, oil pouring down from anointed heads, extravagant feasting. This story is just one further example of God not just providing enough, but more than enough, until all were satisfied.
By Susan Thorne