The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. It’s the only miracle besides the resurrection that is included in all four gospels. So it must be very important.
You can find it in Matthew 14:13-21. What I find most striking about this passage recently though is not the miracle itself, but the circumstances in which Jesus performed this act and what it meant.
The story begins this way, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.”
What did Jesus hear that caused him to try to go away by himself? If we look at the story right before this, John the Baptist was just beheaded. Jesus’ cousin, the one who prepared the way for him, was killed and it seems Jesus is just trying to be alone and grieve. Yet this crowd of people follows him.
We can grasp just how much Jesus was grieving and needed some time to grieve by what he does right after this miracle as well.
We’re told after, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”
Sometimes we focus so much on Jesus’ divinity and talk about how he was God in the flesh, he knew everything, he did amazing miracles, and he healed people, and so on. We can forget that Jesus was also human. Jesus wasn’t pretending to be human, but he really knew our pain, our struggles, our grief and our exhaustion sometimes.
I think that’s a big part of the good news in this story; that in the midst of such a low point Jesus was able to still have compassion on the crowd and out of his grief and frustration he nourished others. The disciples try to get Jesus to turn the crowd away to fend for themselves, but Jesus says, “you give them something to eat.”
I love that Jesus requires the disciples to play an active part in making this miracle happen. Jesus didn’t allow them to sit back and watch him, but they had to play a part.
You might be experiencing a low point in your journey or going through uncertainty or feeling like you don’t have anything to offer, but I would encourage you to find comfort in knowing Jesus knows how you feel.
Jesus is with you in the midst of that right now. Jesus can turn what little you may feel you have into more than you can imagine that will bless others.
The Rev. Eric Oliver is pastor of Elgin, Evangelical, McCray and Wayne Valley United Methodist Churches.