Jesus Feeds the 5,000

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge your harvest of righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

  Paul, 2 Corinthians 9:10, 11

When Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, he summarized in these gestures his own life. Jesus is chosen from all eternity, blessed at his baptism in the Jordan River, broken on the cross, and given as bread to the world. Being chosen, blessed, broken, and given is the sacred journey of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

When we take bread, bless it, break it, and give it with the words ‘This is the Body of Christ,’ we express our commitment to make our lives conform to the life of Christ. We too want to live as people chosen, blessed, and broken, and thus become food for the world.

 Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

The Encounter

 10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 

 12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 

 13He replied, “You give them something to eat.” 

   They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.) 

   But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 

Luke 9:10-17

Some Observations

The apostles return from their mission and meet up with Jesus in Bethsaida.  As usual, a crowd of people discover where Jesus is and come to hear him preach about the kingdom and heal those in need of healing.  Jesus welcomes them.  

As it grows later in the day, the disciples start to stress about food and lodging for the 5,000 that had gathered to the remote place where Jesus was teaching and healing.  They ask Jesus to send the people into the surrounding towns to find food and lodging.  Jesus instead turns things around on the disciples: “You give them something to eat.”

Jesus is bringing the twelve deeper into his ministry, but there are still many lessons to learn.  The apostles must have thought Jesus was joking, as they only had five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus has asked them to do something that they have next to no resources to complete. 

At a quarter a loaf of bread and half a fish per person, this would imply the need for 1,250 loaves of bread and 2,500 fish; in other words, they had in their possession 0.4% of the bread they needed and less than 0.1% of the fish they needed.  I’m pretty sure that Matthew the former tax collector must have made the same calculation.  The disciples must have estimated the probability of successfully completing this mission as precisely 0.000{…}%.

Jesus then gives instructions by telling the dumbfounded disciples to organize the people into groups of fifty – 100 groups based on 5,000 people.  They do it without questioning Jesus and with no obvious solution to the huge shortfall of resources.  Jesus gives thanks to God and begins to divide the bread and fish up into baskets that the disciples begin to distribute (8-9 groups per disciple, divide and conquer).  Jesus performs the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish (1,000X+ fish) and involves the disciples in his work each step of the way.  

We see Jesus’ desire to include us in his miraculous work.  His miracles thus far are typically about healing and providing for people; love for those around him guides Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus asks us to believe in his power in hopeless situations against all logical odds.  This means stepping forth in faith (exemplified in the disciples organizing the crowds) without clarity about how things will work out.

We should have confidence in God’s provision of resources for what he wants to accomplish.  Even after satisfying the hunger of the 5,000, there are twelve baskets left over (one for each disciple).  The kingdom of God is about abundance; not necessarily to be interpreted as personal financial blessing, but in the provision of enormous (actually, unlimited) power and resources to accomplish God’s purposes.

The idea of 12 basketfuls left over for the disciples and Jesus – presumably enough for days to come and far more than they started with – seems to mesh with the idea of “seek[ing] his kingdom and these things will be added unto you as well” (we will get to this in Luke 12).  In blessing others first, our own needs are often met as a well.

This is a totally different orientation to life than culture dictates – again, Jesus’ teaching is radically upside down.  Even celebrated philanthropists that serve the needs of others typically follow the path of personal success, then parsing out the proceeds later.  We are not to wait.

We are to focus on the needs of others before our own (or at least as much as our own in loving neighbor as self) and place God’s priorities before our own.  As we follow Jesus more closely, his priorities should become our priorities.  If we take Jesus at his word, this is the “life to the full” of purpose and joy, with our own needs being met in the abundance of God’s provision as we serve and bless others.  


“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

  Psalm 37:3-6

A Prayer

“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep.  O Lord, you preserve both man and beast.  How priceless is your unfailing love!  Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.  The feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

  Psalm 36:5-9