i'd like to make reservations for 15,000
Turkey. Stuffing. Gravy. Mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie. These are the traditional elements of a meal called Thanksgiving that America celebrates every year. A time of joy for overeaters. A time of stress for homemakers. A time of fear for turkeys.
This meal derives its name from the idea that our nation is giving thanks to God for His blessings, so we celebrate this thanks-for-giving to God by eating of our abundance. During this holiday, unusually large amounts of people gather in houses, apartments, hospitals, restaurants, and prisons to eat together and be thankful for how abundantly God has blessed America. Places that can hold nine people are transformed into small stadiums with standing room only. Long-lost family members find their way back home for Thanksgiving. Family members you wish were long lost show up to give you a hug, wearing that ugly sweater that has a picture of a cat with jingle bells sewn on the paws. Kids make turkey masks from construction paper and chase each other around the house, eventually running into furniture because they made the eye-holes too small.
This meal is so important that RSVP’s are often required, and many women plan weeks ahead of time to make sure they have enough food for everyone who is coming. It is bad etiquette to have people come visit and run out of food. Planning is essential. Skill is required. Decorations are optional for some, vital for most. Some people skip meals or don’t eat all day long so they can have a ravenous appetite for Thanksgiving dinner.
What would happen if you had to feed a lot of people? How many, you ask? Thousands. What is your budget? Nothing. How much time do you have? None.
JESUS IS SPECTACULAR
At this point in his life, Jesus is around 32 years old and is almost 2 years into his public ministry. He is nearing the height of his popularity as he has been healing people all over Israel of incurable diseases and handicaps, driving out demons, and restoring sanity and wholeness to thousands. Word about him has been spreading far and wide—both to the common man and to the secular and religious rulers. Jesus is a rock star! In our day, Jesus would have been the one on the cover of all the gossip magazines at the grocery store and on the entertainment pages online. Paparazzi would be stalking him from behind rocks and trees and camels to get a candid photo of him in action.
In today’s reading, Jesus has attracted a crowd. A huge crowd. A mass of 5,000 men plus women and children probably made the full size of the event 12,000-15,000 people. Imagine. A poor teacher with no publicity team has gained such a tremendous following that people are ditching their homes and jobs to follow him as he walks by the lake! It is an exciting time for the disciples to see such a large throng around their rabbi when, less than two years earlier, they were all no-names, lacking prestige or influence.
PHILIP IS SURVEYING
Hearing his stomach growl, Philip takes a deep breath and starts to wonder to himself when this day would come to an end. Wow, there are a lot of people here. Glad we won’t have to feed this crowd . . . this has been one of Jesus’ longest sermons . . . the sun’s going down. I am so hungry. We need to get these people out of here so we can eat. Philip is looking out over the crowd, waiting for Jesus to dismiss them so they can head back to wherever they have come from. Jesus doesn’t. Instead he gathers the disciples and asks which of them will get food for all these people. Philip does some quick math in this head: 15,000 people + fish + bread + right now = impossible. Not to mention distribution. No way. Not a chance.
Philip pipes up and informs Jesus that it would take eight months wages for a man to buy enough bread for everyone to just have one bite. Philip reasons that maybe Jesus is really tired from speaking all day or is just bad at math. Even though Judas is the treasurer of the group, Philip is evidently the numbers guy. He is probably the accountant/analyst type who is always practically motivated and often pessimistic about visionary endeavors or thinking outside the box. Philip is from the local area, so he would know how impossible it is to purchase food from the surrounding villages for so many people. But this solution is not what Jesus has in mind.
When Jesus is present, God is present. When God is present, a solution is present. Jesus is about to roll out a solution no one can fathom. This is going to be a divine lesson in faith for number-crunching Philip.
DINNER IS SERVED
Andrew ignores Philip’s venture into financing the meal and starts asking around for food from the crowd. Eventually he finds a boy whose mother has thought ahead and packed him five small rolls of bread and two fire-charred fish. Andrew has doubts about this little amount of food helping the problem, but at least he brings it to Jesus. Jesus then takes the food, blesses it, and places it into wicker baskets. Then, as the disciples start to distribute it, the food never runs out! As fast as they can hand out the bread and fish, it is being miraculously replenished until all 15,000 have eaten—not just a bite of food but until they are full. Full? Everyone? Yes. Not only that, but at the end, there are twelve baskets filled with leftovers, showing that even in God’s bounty, there should never be waste.
Jesus demonstrates that he is the provider for humanity. It is a watershed, faith-expanding moment for the disciples. Just a little while earlier, the disciples could not see past the obvious problem of the crowd’s needs. Now, looking at the leftovers from their meal, they are slowly realizing that their desire to send the crowd away was selfish and shortsighted. Jesus uses this situation as a teaching opportunity for them and also as a show of divine grace for the crowd. This miracle is so key, both in the lives of the disciples and to Jesus’ proving his abilities as God, that it is one of the few miracles described in all four Gospels.
THE CROWD IS PSYCHED
As word starts getting around that the baskets of food were not provided by a local village or delivered by a wealthy benefactor, but were multiplied from five loaves of bread and a couple pieces of fish, the people are impressed. Really impressed! They are so impressed that whispers started circulating. Our Savior is finally here! The Prophet who Moses talked about is going to save us now. We will finally kick Rome out of Israel. Let’s march Jesus into Jerusalem and make him King! The whispers soon turn to talk, and talk turns to shouts. The disciples must think, Yes! We have a standing army of 5,000 men ready to march at Jesus’ command. We are on our way to ruling with Jesus! I wonder how big my throne will be?
Jesus has everything a conqueror needs; he can heal people, raise the dead, and create food from nothing. Jesus is unstoppable. This is Jesus’ chance to march with his army and rule. So what does he do? He leaves to go be alone on a mountain to pray. Excuse me? The mission of mercy Jesus is on is not primarily to fill stomachs but to fill hearts. The people want a savior from Roman rule, but Jesus offers a Savior from sin. They see in Jesus physical freedom, but he sees in them the need for spiritual freedom. The two desires are in conflict.
Popularity does not prove godly motivation, and a crowd does not equal healthy ministry. The Kingdom Jesus will rule will not be temporary and man-centered but eternal and God-empowered. This miraculous meal on the shore of Galilee is a small taste of the greatness of the future coming Kingdom—a place where every meal will be Thanks-for-giving and Thanks-forgiving.
DAY 14 QUESTIONS
- What are your favorite holiday meal memories?
- How would you have felt if you were one of Jesus’ disciples and he asked you to feed the crowd? What would your solution have been?
- If you were one of the disciples and had seen this miracle, how would it have affected your beliefs about Jesus?
- If you had the opportunity to become popular, is there anything that would keep you from doing it?
- What does it say about Jesus’ love for you that he stuck to his mission rather than using his power and influence to promote himself?