“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5) Jesus asked Philip from Bethsaida, up on the hillside on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, faced with a clamouring and hungry crowd (5000+) and no shops anywhere near.
Philip was a man with a practical head – and there is nothing wrong with that. He replied: “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7) – and we can imagine him saying, “And we certainly can’t muster that between us!”
The response of Andrew the fisherman was similarly practical: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9)
Jesus was testing Philip, John tells us. What should he have said? I don’t know but, perhaps, looking at the impossibility of the situation, Jesus hoped he would respond with some kind of faith. He didn’t. Jesus was training these disciples (and it was hard work at times) to be men and women who daily trusted in the all-embracing care of a loving heavenly Father who wants the best for His children.
We face an uncertain future and, as on that lonely hillside, our resources are limited. Many hopes are dashed. Realism sets in. Will ‘whatever is new’ ever work? Like Philip, Jesus is testing our hearts.
What does He want?
Philip and Andrew were clearly not expecting a miracle. Seeing Jesus take a young lad’s day’s ration of loaves and fish before their eyes and multiply them must have left them incredulous. The God of shock and surprise had shattered their expectations and, no doubt, they would have begun to approach future challenges with growing faith.
What can happen if we, similarly, surrender our feeble resources to Jesus and put our trust in Him?
Jesus did an extraordinary miracle – but he could have done it another way: in everyone’s pockets a neat pack of bread and fish appears. He didn’t. He broke the bread and fish and, “Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people” (Matthew 14:19).
He chose to use Philip and Andrew and the other disciples to complete what He had done. As we give who we are and what we have to Jesus, He will work with surprise and abundance. But He will use us.
When they had all had enough to eat, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted. So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten (John 6:12,13).
God doesn’t like waste! He will use everything! As for the twelve baskets – well, plenty of leftovers for sure and a basket for each disciple. ‘See,’ says Jesus, ‘more than enough for you all! And, if we think of a disciple for each tribe of Israel, there’s enough for all God’s people – that means all of us.