I’ve read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 many times through the years. I’ve read many commentaries on it and since the story is told in all four gospels it is understood to be significant. After all why would all four men choose to make specific mention of the details of the event? I believe the reason it is significant isn’t for the typical reasons discussed. Although the implication that through Christ we can do the impossible is pretty clear. Jesus actually says himself, “Anything is possible for him who believes”. I’d be hard pressed to argue that point.
I’d like to take a minute to review the details and a little pre-event context as I explain my understanding. Jesus has just come from performing miracles. His disciples had been witness’ to those works. Jesus suggests they get away to Bethsaida. The Bible describes it as a remote town, believed to have been located in Galilee. It was a place the disciples and Jesus were familiar with. As they reached the shores (they had traveled there by boat), there was a crowd already gathered. The disciples who hadn’t had much time for rest were probably hungry and in dire need of some down time. However, Jesus saw the crowd and felt compassion for them. So he began to teach.
Have you ever been in a situation where you just wanted to go home? You were hungry and tired and had a long day. The person you were with suddenly turns into Chatty Cathy striking up long drawn out conversation about something you’d be more receptive to in different circumstances. Instead of appearing rude you stay and smile and pretend to be interested as your growling stomach gurgles and moans. I imagine the disciples may have been feeling a little like that. Perhaps they were off to the side listening and watching when finally Philip spoke up. “I’m hungry.” They all collectively agree that it is getting late and maybe Jesus should wrap it up for the night. After all there are thousands of people that will need to find lodging and food in this remote area.
They approach Jesus with the recommendation. Instead of sending them away he suggests, “You feed them”. This is where it gets interesting. The disciples are standing with a man they have personally witnessed perform miracles. Yet the reply they give is, “How do you expect us to do that?” They think in physical terms and ask if they are supposed to actually go purchase food for all the people. They also point out to Jesus, the miracle man, exactly how much money it will cost and how much time it would take them to make that money. What they didn’t point out was how they would carry it back, prepare & distribute it. I’m sure if left to their own devices they may have found many more reasons for why they couldn’t do it. Do you see the humor here? I like to think if I were there I would have said something expressive of my faith and confidence in Christ, “Lord, this lowly servant has learned well from her Spiritual teacher, I shall speak authority over these people and by faith believe they will be provided for.” Then perhaps Jesus would have rained down manna as in the days of the Israelites. Perhaps.
Perhaps. But Unlikely. In all honesty I don’t do things now that are expressive of my faith. In fact there are times when I don’t even think about standing in faith and I try to find solutions on my own. As I’ve grown in my walk I have gotten better at this. Now I can say I usually stand in faith…eventually. Wha wha wha. I think many of us do this. We at first try everything we can think of and then when we’ve tried everything and it still doesn’t work we say, “Well all I can do now is give it to God”. If you’re anything like me, once you’ve “given it to God” it usually works out and I think to myself, why didn’t I do that first? Well I think I might have the answer to that question. I think the reason we don’t do it first, is because we don’t practice doing it first. I mean practice it as if it were a skill needing to be honed. We practice piano, we practice singing, we practice skiing, we practice swimming, we practice dressing and tying our shoes. In fact we’ve practiced tying our shoes so much we don’t realize were doing it. It takes no thought or effort.
In a book titled Willpower by Roy Baumeister, and John Tierney. The authors discuss how willpower is strongest when it has been practiced in discipline. Discipline can be defined as the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior. The more developed our discipline in something the less we will have to rely on willpower alone. The less we rely on our willpower, the less we have to make a conscious effort, the less our willpower becomes depleted. Making the decision to be disciplined allows us to battle what Baumeister and Tierney call “decision fatigue”. They state that, “decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at their colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, and can’t resist the car dealers offer to rustproof their new sedan.” The idea is that the more decisions we have to make throughout the day the more depleted our willpower becomes. They use the example, by the time we go to the grocery store at the end of our work day, hungry, with no budget, and no plan we end up with a cart full of junk food and a candy bar in our hand as we head to our car. How different that experience would have been had we eaten first, taken a list, and set a budget.
Stay with me here. If you made making a list, setting a budget, and eating before grocery shopping your regular discipline, eventually you would always do it that way. Over time it would no longer be a challenging chore. You would probably make better purchasing decisions and perhaps eat healthier too. I believe it’s the same as tying your shoes. When you first learned it was a challenge. You had to practice and it was hard. Now you probably don’t waste effort thinking about tying your shoe at all.
What does any of this have to do with Jesus and his disciples? Jesus didn’t just perform a miracle when he fed the 5000. He gave them step by step instructions to follow in any circumstance. Instructions that would help the disciples with discipline. Discipline can also be defined as a branch of knowledge, typically studied in higher education. The disciples saw the problem in Mark 6, “Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” Jesus saw the solution, “You feed them.” When the disciples failed to turn to God for a solution, Jesus patiently instructed them.
These are the steps he taught:
- He clarified the problem, “You feed them.” The people needed to be fed and someone needed to feed them. Jesus was telling the disciples to do something, when Jesus tells you to do something you can be sure he has the resources you need to make it happen.
- He took inventory, “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” Jesus knows what we have to work with, it’s not a surprise to him. He wants us to figure out what our strengths are. He wants us to recognize the resources he’s already given us.
- He organized. The Bible says he “told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.” Jesus wants us to get our lives in order. Breaking big projects into little goals makes them more manageable. Life is that way too. If we can organize our big goals into smaller more manageable steps they are more easily accomplished. It makes what seems impossible, possible.
- He turned to God and gave thanks. “Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them.” We need to give thanks for all that we have and where we are currently. Thanking him for our current blessings allows us to focus on the more positive aspects of our lives and is an expression of our gratitude.
- He systematically implemented a plan. The Bible says he divided the loaves, he designated helpers, he distributed the loaves, and he made sure the excess was accounted for. Jesus was the living example in action. He was showing how these steps work.
- He Prayed. It may seem strange that this is the last of the six steps. However praying is something we should be doing always. Praying at the end of the day when you have retreated to your room or have more privacy strengthens our personal relationship with God. Jesus took this time to refresh from a busy time. We should learn from his example.
Imagine if we were disciplined to implement these steps in every circumstance. What if every time a challenge arose we took the time to clarify the problem, take inventory of where we are already, what we have to work with, then we organized it all, gave thanks for it, devised a plan, implemented that plan and made a decision to seek God in prayer? How different would things be?