A REFLECTION ON FEEDING THE 5,000

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“And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. He said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full” (Matthew 14:14-20).

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You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16).The disciples thought they had withdrawn where they would not be discovered, but as soon as the multitude missed the divine Teacher, they inquired, “Where is he?” Some among them had noticed the direction in which Christ and His disciples had gone, and soon an immense crowd was looking for Christ. Fresh additions were made to this number until the congregation was composed of no less than five thousand men, besides women and children.

From the hillside Jesus looked upon the moving multitude, and His great heart of love and compassion was stirred with sympathy. Interrupted as He was and robbed of His rest, He was not impatient…. Leaving His mountain retreat, He found a convenient place where He could minister to their spiritual destitution….

The people listened to the words of mercy flowing so freely from the lips of the Son of God. They heard the gracious words, so simple and so plain that they were as the balm of Gilead to their souls. The healing of His divine hand brought gladness and life to the dying and ease and health to those suffering with disease. The day seemed to them like heaven upon earth, and they were utterly unconscious of how long it was since they had eaten anything.

“And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat.” Surprised and astonished, they say unto Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass…. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.”

He who taught the people the way to secure peace and happiness was just as thoughtful of their temporal necessities as of their spiritual need.

—Signs of the Times, August 12, 1897

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ELLEN G. WHITE (1827-1915), one of the most published authors in the world, named one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by the Smithsonian Institution in 2014, was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

*You can read The Desire of Ages in its entirety online at www.whiteestate.org/onlinebooks.

This article is part of our 2023 September/October Issue
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STUDY TEXT

Read Mark 6:32-44

Look again at Mark 6:34. Notice how the people were looking for Jesus. They longed to hear Him teach and have Him heal their sick. One could argue that it was partially because of their voyeuristic craving for the next amazing act. Nevertheless, when Jesus saw them His compassion for them was ignition for the ministry He offered to them. It should not be lost on us that Jesus’ prime motivator here was compassion. What motivates your service to others?   

Read Matthew 14:13-21.

The central idea to remember here is not simply that Jesus performed a miracle that is still astounding today, but rather that He required that the disciples take responsibility over the needs of the masses. That iconic statement, “You give them something to eat,” stands as a testament to the mandate of devout followers of Christ to alleviate the suffering of those around us. The disciples wanted to send the people away. Yet Jesus always requires that we act for the good of others out of a compassionate, loving, and generous heart.

Read Luke 4:14-21, Isaiah 61. 

Notice the ways in which the feeding of the 5,000 was in direct correlation with Jesus’s own description of His mission on earth. Reflect on the ways in which the mission of Jesus influences the way the contemporary church functions. Are we in harmony with the ministry of Jesus or are we out of compliance? What are some areas where we need to maintain, and what things might need to be discarded? 

Read John 6:1-13.

Notice in John 6:12 that Jesus directs the disciples saying, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” There’s a profound principle at work here; in a healthy system, nothing is wasted. The miracle is not simply for the moment. God’s provisions are designed to provide for our needs and the needs of others, in this present moment and beyond. The disciples will need those food items later and so will those in their personal circles of influence. Jesus also teaches us in that moment that God’s provision are not designed to be luxurious, extravagant, or excessive. God provides for our necessities; not our lavish taste.

Read Matthew 25:31-46

“If men today were simple in their habits, living in harmony with nature’s laws, as did Adam and Eve in the beginning, there would be an abundant supply for the needs of the human family. There would be fewer imaginary wants, and more opportunities to work in God’s ways. But selfishness and the indulgence of unnatural taste have brought sin and misery into the world, from excess on the one hand, and from want on the other” (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 367). In which ways can you identify excess contributing to want and need in our world?

Read 1 John 4:19-21, James 2:1-9.

This is the faith to which I am heir. It is a faith that takes seriously the ethical demands of the Gospel to love our neighbors as ourselves and to seek the salvation and well-being of the whole people…But today the contours of this faith, this venerable faith, are barely recognizable, particularly in the public square. Too many of the faithful, especially right-wing “evangelical” Christians, seem to have forgotten that loving our neighbors is as crucial to authentic faith as loving God, when in actuality, loving our neighbors is the only real evidence of love for God. It is as if right-wing evangelicals have embraced “a different gospel”…a harsh, self-serving ideology of domination like the one Jesus died standing against, a heretical ideology that refracts and distorts the love and truth of his teachings through a lens of xenophobia, political rancor, and narrow self-interests (Obery Hendricks, Christians Against Christianity, xv-xvi).

Read Proverbs 14:21, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 22:9, Proverbs 22:16.

Make a list of the ways in which we might demonstrate greater compassion and care for those who are in need. Share that list with your friends and family, and make a commitment to putting some of those strategies into practice. 

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Christopher C. Thompson  is an adjunct professor in the School of Religion and Theology at Oakwood University. He serves as the Executive Director of Thumbs Up, Inc., and pastor of Lighthouse Church in Beaufort, South Carolina.

This article is part of our 2023 September/October Issue
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