The story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000+ was a constant “go to” story when I was growing up. It felt like each night my mom would have our spaghetti dinner in the large cooking pot and as she dished it out to our plates she would say “It’s the loaves & the fishes tonight” but eventually she and the food would make it around the entire table and it would feed all 7 then 8 then 9 then 10 then 11 of us (Bio Note: I come from a family of 9 kids). We’d have white bread and butter and eat our spaghetti and “all ate and were filled”.
It is a story that I have heard and loved so many times. So imagine my surprise as I’m reading “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” by Fr. James Martin to notice something I don’t ever recall noticing before.
In Fr. James Martin’s book he includes the text for “The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes” aka “The Feeding of the Five Thousand” — Mark 6:35-44. For a few days I’ve been pondering this: “How many loaves have you? Go and see.”
The Feeding of the Five Thousand.34When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.35* By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already very late.36Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”37He said to them in reply, “Give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?”38He asked them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out they said, “Five loaves and two fish.”39So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass.40* The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties.41Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to [his] disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all.*42They all ate and were satisfied.43And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish.44Those who ate [of the loaves] were five thousand men.
I finally recognized there is a difference here between Jesus’ instruction and what the disciples do.
Jesus’ instruction was to see how many loaves the people had. What did the disciples do? They found loaves, but they also found fish. Jesus asked for something and they returned to Him more than He asked. And from that he was able to perform such a great miracle as to warrant its mention in all 4 Gospels.
This story reminds me of the Parable of the Talents. This parable was likely so top of mind since Fr. James Martin covered it a few chapters prior in his “Parables” chapter. And when the master hands his servants talents the ones who served him the best are the ones who went out and did more than what was asked of them –they turned what they were given into more.
I want to overlook the analogy there between that and what Jesus himself did, but instead my focus is on what Jesus’ disciples did.
What struck me is that I think, in my own approach to things and ways of thinking, that if I am asked to do something I do that thing. If Jesus had told me “Go find loaves” would I have combed thru the crowd going “Loaves? Loaves? Loaves? Loaves?” and so narrow-minded and focused on “Loaves” that I fail to ask for more?
That I fail to even think: “Anyone have anything else?” Or “What else might there be that would help?” Or “What’s that? You have some fish? No, I’m looking for Loaves. Jesus said ‘Loaves’ so I’m just bringing Him loaves.”
So the fact that the disciples returned not just with 5 Loaves but also with 2 Fish says a lot about how to be a disciple. The disciples knew what Jesus had asked and they went out to do what was asked and they did more. They also showed faith and trust in God’s providence when they returned with such a small amount of food –they did not let themselves get in the way with such thoughts as “How could this possibly feed everyone?” Or maybe if the had those thoughts they still proceeded to bring to Jesus what He asked – they did as Jesus commanded but also they did more. [Don’t forget originally they were questioning Jesus how, but as soon as Jesus told them to do something they faithfully did it even though they likely did not understand it – not only did they do it, but –what’s that again? that’s right – they did what was asked and then they did more.]
Additionally, Jesus said then asked “You give them something to eat. / How many loaves have you?” Which strikes me as odd phrasing, unless it is just a strange translation of His question. Because wouldn’t they have just said “None”? But the disciples understood that Jesus’ question was a call for them to “go and see” how they could serve the people. That it wasn’t just on Jesus to bring about the solution, but that they had a part to play in it. And so the disciples needed to act so that Jesus could perform the great miracle. Now I know that Jesus could do anything that He wants, so he doesn’t necessarily need the disciples to be faithful. But it shows how powerful and loving that God is that He calls us to participate in his love story — that He wants us to serve Him and play an important role. This seems especially important to convey to the disciples while Jesus is still with them so that they understand they have the initiative to bring about God’s kingdom even after Jesus is gone from their physical presence.
Jesus asks His disciples to “go and see” what we can do to take care of others – if people are hungry go and see how you can feed them. If people are in need go and see how you can help with their needs. If people are suffering go and see how you can ease that suffering. And don’t forgot – do that AND MORE.
Dear Jesus, Help me to ‘go and see’ how you want me to be your disciple. May I see what you are asking of me. And may I also see how I can do more. Amen.