The Feeding of the Five Thousand is the only miracle (aside from the resurrection) recorded in all four Gospels. It is also one of the most popular, as anyone who was ever made a “Loaves and Fishes” craft in Sunday School can readily attest.
Despite this fact, it is rare for us to really examine the miracle or what Jesus is trying to communicate to us through it. As we discussed back in Matthew 9, Jesus’ miracles are meant to tell us something - just as much as His sermons or parables are. God can do anything, so what the way He chooses to show His power tells us something about His character and what He expects of us.
In the lead up to the Feeding of the Five Thousand, a huge crowd follows the fishing boat that Jesus was traveling on. As night approaches, the disciples encourage Jesus to send the people away to purchase food. Jesus instead instructs the disciples to offer the people something. After some digging, we know from the other Gospels that the disciples are able to find a boy with five loaves and a couple fish.
Already, Jesus has given us some clues to the lesson He aims to teach. When examining Jesus’ miracles, I find it helpful to imagine other ways Jesus could have accomplished the job - it often reveals the lesson implied in the way He actually did it. In this case, when His disciples pointed out the lack of food, Jesus could have simply snapped His fingers and conjured food from nothing, as God did when He provided manna from heaven in the Old Testament. Instead, He tells the disciples to figure it out. For some reason, it is important that they play a role in the lesson.
As Jesus no doubt expected, the disciples aren’t able to solve the problem, but they do bring something - the few loaves and a couple fish they got from a young boy. While this meal was hardly adequate to feed five people, let alone five thousand, once placed in Jesus’ hands it was more than enough. Everyone left with a full belly, with plenty leftover as well.
I think this is the heart of the lesson Jesus was teaching His disciples that day - and the one He continues to teach us. Our talents, resources and gifts frequently seem inadequate to the task of building God’s Kingdom. On my own, I can hardly make a dent in the problems that face this world. If I emptied my bank accounts, rolled up my sleeves and poured every ounce of blood, sweat and tears in feeding the hunger, healing the sick or spreading the gospel, I’m not sure the world would even notice.
But placed into the hands of the Master, my meager offering can become enough to feed the multitudes. God is not bound by our limited resources - He can make more - or our feeble talents - He has enough talent already. He doesn’t need our help; he desires our willingness. What we offer Him matters little. That we offer it means everything.