One of my all-time favorite Bible stories also happens to be one of the most famous - the feeding of the 5,000. It’s a story that we’ve all heard – when Jesus fed a large multitude of people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. Who wouldn't love a story about free fish sandwiches on a hot summer day? Now’s that what following Jesus is all about!
But something hit me the last time I read this story – something that made me ask myself this question: is being the recipient of a miracle what I really want? Or is there something better?
The story starts in Luke 9:10-11, “When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then He took them with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed Him.”
The apostles had just returned from their very first mission trip. Jesus sent them out to preach the gospel and cast out demons and cure diseases (not your average 4 day business trip). So they had just come back from this trip and were probably exhausted (I’ve never cast out any demons but I can imagine that it requires a lot of energy and would leave me kinda tired too).
They wanted to just get away and get a little R&R with their Master. So they do. But there was a problem… the people! The people found them and their little secret hide out and immediately flocked to them. Why? Because these guys were the talk of town. They’re healing the sick, they’re casting out demons, they’re doing all kinds of cool miracles.
Imagine if a group of doctors showed up in your town and they had a cure for diabetes, and a cure for cancer, and a cure for any ailment you might have. And best of all, they were willing to cure them all free… NO CO-PAY REQUIRED! Do you think people would let them sneak out of town quietly?
The apostles are tired and just want some rest. They want a break, but the people don’t give them a break. If you were in their shoes, how would you feel about these people? What would be your attitude towards them?
The story goes on. Jesus receives the people and uses the opportunity to preach the gospel to them and heal their sick as well. The apostles have had just about enough of the people by this point:
“Late in the afternoon, the twelve came to Him and said ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’” (Luke 9:12)
So compassionate right?
WRONG. They may have been partly saying that because they cared for the people who were hungry, but I think they were more concerned with another group of people who were hungry…THEMSELVES! They were hungry but they didn’t want to sound selfish so their excuse was “the people are hungry Jesus, give them a break.”
(I do the same with my kids. I tell my wife “the kids really want pizza and ice cream for dinner sweetheart, so let’s give them what they want :) )
Then comes the part of the story that we all know. Jesus tells the disciples to give them something to eat. They say “we wish we could Jesus, but we’re in the middle of nowhere so how in the world could we feed so many people?” That’s when Jesus finds a little boy who is willing to offer his lunch to Jesus – 5 slices of bread and 2 little pieces of fish – barely enough to satisfy a young lad.
Now when Jesus does the miracle, notice the role of the disciples:
“Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke them. Then He gave them to His disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” (Luke 9:16-17)
Ever wonder why Jesus did it that way? Why have the disciples distribute the food? And then why have them pick it up at the end?
I mean, if I’m one of the twelve disciples, I’d be thinking “If you’re God and you can feed all those people from that little lunchbox, can’t you also distribute it to them? Why do we have to work? We’re tired. Can’t You just make it rain down from heaven? And actually didn’t You do that before in the Old Testament – make manna rain from the sky? So why not now?”
The answer? It wasn’t for Jesus’ sake, but for the disciples’ sake. He wanted them to remember this lesson forever. What was the lesson?
The lesson is this: when it comes to the miracles of God, being the recipient isn’t as much fun as being the channel.
The people were recipients of a miracle – they all ate and were satisfied. They got their hunger quenches for a day but that was pretty much it.
But the disciples were the channels for the miracle. What they gained lasted a lifetime. They used their own hands to distribute the sandwiches – the sandwiches which they knew didn’t exist 5 minutes ago. And they used their own hands to clean up afterwards as well – each of them ending up with their own basketful of leftovers so they’d never forget.
And you know the interesting thing? The Bible never says that they themselves ate anything. We don’t know whether they got a fish sandwich or not. But if you ask me, it doesn’t really matter. What they got was better… MUCH BETTER!
Some food for thought/discussion (pun intended):
Are you asking God to make you the recipient of miracles? Or the channel? Is your focus on what you want God give TO YOU? Or on what you want God to do THROUGH you?