Gospel of John: Loaves and Fish


Physically tired, hungry, emotionally weary, and still looking for the retreat Jesus had invited them to, the disciples (according to the other gospels) urged Jesus to send the people away. But Jesus’ compassion would not let him do that. Before him were a people hungry for spiritual things, hungry for teaching and shepherding, and a people who were simply hungry.

He could have asked Peter, Andrew, James, or John, who were all locals, but Jesus turned to Philip and asked him where they might find a place to buy bread to feed all these people. But Philip did the math and basically said it was utterly impossible to get dinner for this crowd, regardless of where they went to buy bread. They simply did not have the money.

So, Jesus told the disciples to go and find out how much food they had among them, and Andrew mentioned a boy who had a little lunch with him, the poorest kind of bread, barley bread, and two anchovies (that’s what they really were). It was the poorest of the poor kind of food. When Roman soldiers were punished, they were made to eat barley bread. And there was only one little lunch to go around to thousands of people.

Philip pointed to the enormity of the problem, Andrew to the meagerness of their resources and is that not where you and I end up too, so often, when we are faced with a crisis?

Jesus was testing their faith.

Would God come through for all these people, and would God come through for them, too? Jesus had a solution that was completely outside the box, but it would require the disciples’ willingness to trust Jesus and do what he proposed.

In the end, that is all faith is.

As much as the Bible talks about faith throughout the Hebrew Bible and the Christian testament, only one passage offers a definition, found in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].”

The English translation for the Greek word “pistis” is both “belief” and “faith.”  In fact, the Greek word pistis is referred to as polyvalent, meaning there are several meanings, genuinely different from each other, that are all embedded in the one word—poly, several, valent, values or meanings. Here is just a sampling taken from the Greek dictionary:

  1. persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance.
  2. in a subjective sense, good faith, trustworthiness, honesty
  3. in terms of a thing, credence, credit, bona fide.
  4. In a commercial sense, position of trust or trusteeship.
  5. That which gives confidence, assurance, pledge of good faith, guarantee.

Faith is a confidence so secure it is a guarantee.

The kind of faith the Bible talks about is also a living faith.

Faith is an action word. It goes beyond simply intellectual acknowledgement of God, believing in God. Faith is an active trust in God that is lived out in real and practical ways.

Faith, then, does not reduce God to a religious concept, or a catechism, or a set of doctrines. Faith does not content itself with traditions and rites. Faith is not a sentiment that can be set aside.

Faith is a lived reality.

You and I can know what we truly believe by how we live our lives.  

We will know our priorities, what has meaning for us and value, what our goals in life are, as we watch what we do, listen to what we say, and observe what decisions we make, throughout our every days. When the chips are down, all facades and niceties stripped away, whatever is left—those motivations, those aims—represents what we actually believe, not just what we reassure ourselves (and others) we believe.

Jesus had the people sit down in groups, took the food and gave thanks to God for God’s provision, modeling faith in the Father, willingness and contentment to accept whatever the Father provides.

Jesus then gave the bread and fish fragments to his tired and hungry disciples to give out to the crowds.

Why did the Lord do it that way?

Just as with the manna in Moses’ day, God’s bread was to be gathered and served, it was a test of love. It must have taken a while, even at twelve men going back and forth from Jesus to the people, to get all those thousands of hungry people fed till they were full.

What feelings do you think the disciples might have been struggling with by this point?

  • Overworked, overextended, depleted.
  • Hungry, weary.
  • Perhaps a little resentful in being made to serve others when they had themselves been promised rest and refreshment in a retreat from the demands of others.
  • Unappreciated.

Jesus had given all to the crowd and had expected the disciples to just go along with it, even after they had already put in a long hard, unforeseen day of work, rowing across the Sea of Galilee, when their time of anticipated rest and intimate fellowship that Jesus had planned for them had been abruptly taken away.

Can you relate?

Finally, there came a point when the last group had been given their fill of barley loaves and soupçons of fish, surely hours later. Finally, the disciples saw they might get some relief, a little time to sit as the crowd ate their repast.

But even now, the ordeal was far from over.

Jesus told them to gather up all the morsels so that nothing would be wasted, which was a rabbinic principle of their day. Waste of any kind was considered a dishonor to God, Who had provided for them. The leftovers of a feast were always gathered for the obedient servers.

Perhaps dumbfounded, yet in exhausted agreement this was proper, as Jesus’ talmidim, each disciple reached for his lunchbox (the size of the baskets depicted in the story), and went back out into the crowd to gather up the leftovers.

When one by one they returned, they saw all their lunchboxes had been filled to capacity. God had provided for them, too.

However, the spiritual lesson Jesus taught them was far more important.

When Jesus broke the bread, lifted it up and thanked God for it, that is when the miracle began. No matter how often the disciples came back for more, there was always more to have. In the same way, when you and I surrender ourselves to God for God’s purposes, allowing God to break open our hearts, to be filled with God’s power, there will always be enough to do what God has given us to do.

Jesus fills the gap between what I have and what is needed by breaking and blessing me

In what ways might you be expecting God to reward you because you have been working hard and doing the right thing? Think of the reward as the privilege of being broken, blessed, and given out by God as God’s miracle to others who are hungry.

Biblical faith is belief in God and acting on that belief.

What little do you have that, if you were willing to give it to Jesus, could be multiplied to provide for others? What might the leftovers be, that could actually be the very source of nourishment and encouragement you have been hoping for from God?

When you and I are tempted to give circumstances more weight than God’s ability to meet those circumstances, we remember Jesus is our available resource in every situation.

Instead of giving in to the sense of being overwhelmed by the size of the situation, and our own lack of resources, faith encourages us to give all we have and trust God for the rest of what is needed.

Think of the little boy. He trustingly gave up his whole lunch, instead of saving a little some just in case there would not be enough for him, or hiding it altogether.

He had the excitement of being part of the miracle, going home to tell his mother that her five barley loaves and two anchovies fed over five thousand people that day, after being broken in the hands of the Lord himself.

Think how famous her oven became after that!

What is the next thing that God is showing you to do? Begin with where you are and what you have, and trust God to do something creative and wonderful with it.


Loaves and Fish | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages. org

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