Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit


I will be preaching on Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand this Sunday. This is a story recorded in all four gospels. It is a familiar story making it easy to quickly brush over it as we read the gospels. Certainly the miracle is impressive. Yet a key aspect of the story is the involvement of the disciples. As we consider what it means to be a discerning church, the lesson is crucial.

The story begins with Jesus retreating from the crowds in order to find a solitary place.

(Matthew 14:13 NIV) When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

He can’t seem to get away from the masses. Yet Jesus has compassion on them and spends the day teaching and healing. As evening approaches, the disciples were considering how they might handle dinner. They suggest closing down shop and sending everyone home. Jesus has a different idea.

(Matthew 14:16 NIV) Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

Considering the outcome of the story, we might wonder what Jesus is doing. Why did Jesus instruct the disciples to provide food? They did not have the means to feed such a crowd. In short, Jesus is asking them to do the impossible. Their response indicates their inadequacy.

(Matthew 14:17 NIV) “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

John’s account includes a young boy’s lunch as the source of the supplies.

(John 6:9 NIV) Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Notice how John accentuates the paltry nature of the contribution. The boy (small man) has small loaves and two small fish. Again, the impossibility of fulfilling Jesus’ request is clear.

I wonder why Jesus did not simply instruct the disciples to sit back and watch him work. Why did he not just perform the miracle? He includes the disciples and their meager offering. This is an important point. As we go about joining God in His work, we do not just sit back and watch. We are called to bring whatever we have (as small as it may be) to the table.

We know the rest of the story. Jesus takes the food and expands it to feed the large crowd. Some scholars suggest that the perhaps the crowd had no idea that Jesus was performing a miracle. The saw the meal as provided by the disciples. In the same way, we are tasked to join God’s work in a similar manner. While we may not have much to offer, we simply bring what we have to Jesus and allow him to multiply it to meet the needs of all involved.

(Matthew 14:20 NIV) They all ate and were satisfied

In the end, the mission was accomplished. The disciples were brought into the work, offered all that they could and allowed Jesus to empower their efforts. There is no way the disciples would have been able to feed this mass of people. Yet as they submitted their food (as little as it was) to Jesus, the needs of the people were met.

May we learn to submit ourselves to Jesus and allow him to do great works in us.