(Note: this is an updated version of an essay first posted in 2019)
The feeding of the five thousand is one of the most well-known miracles of Jesus' earthly ministry. It is one of the very few things mentioned in all four Gospels (hint, hint...that means it's a very big deal). It is one of the stories we learn as young children in Sunday School. It is one of those aspects of the Bible that even most people outside the church in our country have heard referenced. Maybe even it is so familiar to us that we fail to see it as anything more than a miracle to provide food for weary soujourners...but is it much, much more.
As you probably guessed, the feeding of the five thousand is the traditional Gospel reading for this fourth Sunday in Lent (John 6.1-15). The Old Testament reading for today is the account of God's gracious provision of manna and quail to the Israelites in Exodus 16.1-21. The similarities between these two accounts should make our ears prick up. Both happened near Passover. Both referenced the crossing of a body of water. Both provided food for hungry people. And though it's still a few chapters on in Exodus, there are mountains looming nearby. As a result, it's only logical to compare these two passages.
The point is NOT that Jesus is the new Moses. The point is that Jesus is much, much greater than Moses. Whereas God provided food through the leadership of Moses in the Old Testament, God himself showed up physically and provided the meal directly through Jesus. Whereas through the Exodus God provided physical rescue for his people Israel from physical slavery and bondage in Egypt, through Christ God provided spiritual rescue for the world from slavery and bondage to sin, death, and the devil.
More pragmatically, let's look at at few things from this account that should jump out at us.
In the beginning, Jesus tests Philip by asking him exactly how they can provide food for so many people. Looking at his own means and power, Philip throws up his hands in despair. We tend to do that a lot also, don't we? We look around us at what we can see and our ability to 'fix' a situation and get frustrated. But just as with Philip, so many times I think Christ wants us to rely on His power and strength versus our own. Our God is ever-willing to help his children, but as with our own earthly parents, our relationship is nurtured by our asking--it builds trust and reliance.
In the middle, Jesus pauses to give thanks. Many of us were raised to give thanks to God for our meals. We would do well to remind ourselves of the words of St. James that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1.17 CSB). Like the children of Israel and the masses wandering in Galilee, we are utterly dependent upon God for everything we have, not just our food. Giving thanks is a natural response for such gifts!
At the end of the passage, the disciples gather up leftovers--twelve baskets, which was much more than they started with! In Exodus, God provided as much manna as was necessary but no more. Here we see that, in Christ, who is the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament / old covenant, we receive not merely just enough to get by but benefit from the overflow of God's grace toward us. Our cups overflow, not principally with physical blessings (though oftentimes they do) but with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus!
This week, as we continue our Lenten journey, take a few minutes to think about God's wonderful provision for us in Christ--asking for those things you need, returning thanks for the gifts he has given you, and reveling in the 'leftovers' of the abundance of his grace!2
Photo by Michael Humphries on Unsplash