Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
Open Your Bible
John 5:31-47, John 6:1-21, Numbers 11:21-23, 2 Kings 4:42-44
When I read the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, the first thing I always think of is a Sunday School teacher reading the passage, then exclaiming, “But wait! There’s more!” like a television infomercial. “Did you catch that? The men numbered five thousand. There must have been triple or quadruple that when you add the women and children!”
To my Sunday School teacher, this information served to amplify the already stunning miracle, adding to our awe of Jesus. Feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish is impressive enough, but what if it were really fifteen or twenty thousand?
But for me, one of the best gifts of reading Scripture, especially familiar stories, isn’t these amplifications. It’s how new things rise to the top when we read and reread. In today’s reading, the parallel stories of Numbers 11 and John 6 stopped me in my tracks. I’ve read both of them dozens of times, heard them taught from my earliest Sunday School days, and yet, the way they mirror each other captivated me today. Scripture is such a sprawling web of connections and references and adjunct stories; beginning to untangle it never gets old.
In Numbers 11, the Israelites have fled from slavery in Egypt. But when they are alone in the desert, they have nothing. Nothing to eat, nothing to drink, no schedule or plan or anything. So they, naturally, begin to complain and ask Moses if there’s a plan. Moses presses the Lord for a response:
“But Moses replied, ‘I’m in the middle of a people with six hundred thousand foot soldiers, yet you say, “I will give them meat, and they will eat for a month.” If flocks and herds were slaughtered for them, would they have enough? Or if all the fish in the sea were caught for them, would they have enough?’” (Numbers 11:21–22).
Jesus and the disciples share a similar back-and-forth. Philip says, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a little” (John 6:7). Then Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish and feeds everyone, with abundant leftovers.
We often bring our own needs before God with the same doubt and scoffing as the Israelites and Philip. We ask for much with little faith. In these two stories, we see the Lord provide because our God is a God of abundance, not scarcity, He cares for us lavishly. He doesn’t offer the bare minimum, only what we need to survive. He provides “everything required for life and godliness” through the gift of Jesus (2Peter 1:3).