LITTLE IS MUCH IN THE HANDS OF JESUS
When it was now late the disciples came to Jesus. “The place,” they said, “is lonely, and it is now late. Send them away that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” He answered, “You give them something to eat.” “Are we,” they said to him, “to go away and buy ten pounds worth of loaves and so give them something to eat?” “How many loaves have you?” he said to them. “Go and see!” When they had found out, they said, “Five and two fishes.” He ordered them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in sections of hundreds and of fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and he looked up into the heaven and blessed them and broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples to serve the people with them. and he divided up the two fishes among them all. And they all ate until they were completely satisfied; and they gathered up the broken pieces of bread and what was left of the fishes–twelve basketsful. And those who ate the loaves amounted to five thousand men.
It is a notable fact that no miracle seems to have made such an impression on the disciples as this, because this is the only miracle of Jesus which is related in all four gospels. We have already seen how Mark’s gospel really embodies the preaching material of Peter. To read this story, so simply and yet so dramatically told, is to read something that reads exactly like an eye-witness account. Let us note some of the vivid and realistic details.
They sat down on the green grass. It is as if Peter was seeing the whole thing in his mind’s eye again. It so happens that this little descriptive phrase provides us with quite a lot of information. The only time when the grass would be green would be in the late springtime, in mid-April. So it is then that this miracle must have taken place. At that time the sun set at 6 p.m., so this must have happened some time in the late afternoon.
Mark tells us that they sat down in sections of a hundred and of fifty. The word used for sections (prasiai, GSN4237) is a very pictorial word. It is the normal Greek word for the rows of vegetables in a vegetable garden. When you looked at the little groups, as they sat there in their orderly rows, they looked for all the world like the rows of vegetables in a series of garden plots.
At the end they took up twelve basketsful of fragments. No orthodox Jew travelled without his basket (kophinos, GSN2894). The Romans made a jest of the Jew and his basket. There were two reasons for the basket which was a wicker-work affair shaped like a narrow-necked pitcher, broadening out as it went down. First, the very orthodox Jew carried his own food supplies in his basket, so that he would be certain of eating food that was ceremonially clean and pure. Second, many a Jew was an accomplished beggar, and into his basket went the proceeds of his begging. The reason that there were twelve baskets is simply that there were twelve disciples. It was into their own baskets that they frugally gathered up the fragments so that nothing would be lost.
The wonderful thing about this story is that all through it runs an implicit contrast between the attitude of Jesus and the attitude of the disciples.
(i) It shows us two reactions to human need When the disciples saw how late it was, and how tired and hungry the crowd were, they said, “Send them away so that they can find something to eat.” In effect they said, “These people are tired and hungry. Get rid of them and let someone else worry about them.” Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” In effect Jesus said, “These people are tired and hungry. We must do something about it.” There are always the people who are quite aware that others are in difficulty and trouble, but who wish to push the responsibility for doing something about it on to someone else; and there are always the people who when they see someone up against it feet compelled to do something about it themselves. there are those who say, “Let others worry.” And there are those who say, “I must worry about my brother’s need.”
(ii) It shows us two reactions to human resources. When the disciples were asked to give the people something to eat, they insisted that ten pounds, or what the King James Version calls two hundred “pence” was not enough to buy bread for them. The word the King James Version translates penny is denarius. This was a Roman silver coin worth about 3p. It was the standard day’s wage of a working man. In effect the disciples were saying, “We could not earn enough in more than six months’ work to give this crowd a meal.” They really meant “Anything we have got is no use at all.”
Jesus said, “What have you got?” They had five loaves. These were not like English loaves: they were more like rolls. John (Jn.6:9) tells us they were barley loaves; and barley loaves were the food of the poorest of the poor. Barley bread was the cheapest and the coarsest of all bread. They had two fishes, which would be about the size of sardines. Tarichaea–which means the salt-fish town–was a well known place on the lake from which salt-fish went out to all over the world. The little salt-fishes were eaten as relish with the dry roils.
It did not seem much. But Jesus took it and worked wonders with it. In the hands of Jesus little is always much. We may think that we have little of talent or substance to give to Jesus. That is no reason for a hopeless pessimism such as the disciples had. The one fatal thing to say is, “For all I could do, it is not worth my while trying to do anything.” If we put ourselves into the hands of Jesus Christ, there is no telling what he can do with us and through us.
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