“Give them some food yourselves.”

In Luke 9:11-17 is the story of Jesus’ amazing miracle of the five loaves and two fish. But there’s a big lesson attached to this story, too.

Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God,
and he healed those who needed to be cured.
As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”
They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have,
unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”
Now the men there numbered about five thousand.
Then he said to his disciples,
“Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.”
They did so and made them all sit down.
Then taking the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing over them, broke them,
and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
They all ate and were satisfied.
And when the leftover fragments were picked up,
they filled twelve wicker baskets.

This is a story about one of Jesus’ most amazing miracles, creating a feast for the multitudes out of five loaves of bread and two fish. We all know it. But there is more to this story than the miracle, as wonderful as that miracle is.

Here are Jesus and the twelve disciples preaching to the five thousand in a deserted place, when it’s suddenly time to find food and lodging. The disciples want to turn the crowd loose to fend for themselves. No, Jesus points out, “Give them some food yourself.” You can imagine how taken aback the disciples must have been. Feed these five thousand from what little we have? I suppose we could leave this deserted place and go try to buy food for five thousand ourselves. But Jesus knows better.  He has told them before they can move mountains if they just have faith.

Jesus has the disciples organize the throng into manageable groups, then He takes the little food they have, blesses it, and then breaks it up for distribution. Voila. He not only creates enough to satisfy the hunger of all those men, He creates a surplus, enough to fill twelve wicker baskets!

What strikes me about this reading besides the awesome miracle is the lesson of service to others. This wasn’t Jesus showing off his power. This was Jesus having compassion for five thousand hungry fellow humans stuck in a deserted place and “moving mountains” to solve the problem. Imagine the logistics of five thousand people hitting the small villages in a deserted area looking for food and lodging. This wasn’t a time of mass production of food. And it was likely later in the day, so there was no 24-hour food mart open — open air markets were likely closed by that time of day. How many of those thousands would have gone without food? What kind of chaos would that have created in those small communities? Instead, Jesus with open heart worked a major miracle and took care of His flock.

We live in a time in which the hard of heart think we should let people fend for themselves. That those who don’t think ahead or don’t have the resources to care for themselves should be left behind. But by His example, in stories like in today’s reading, Jesus says no, it is our duty to help each other. And with faith in God, it is possible even under impossible seeming conditions to meet every need, to even provide a surplus. When we see a need, Jesus command is, “Give them some food yourselves.”

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