Message from Michael

Is What You Have to Offer Jesus Too Small?

For the past couple of weeks, a particular passage of scripture has been resting with me, or I might say, wrestling with me. It is the well-known story of the feeding of the 5000, found in John 6.

There are a few observations I’d like to share … We read how Jesus (v5) “looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him”. Crowds clamoured for Jesus, though they didn’t always want what he offered. On this occasion they seemed to be a hungry (and therefore potentially dangerous) crowd.

Rather than address the crowd, Jesus turns his attention to one of his disciples – Philip. He asks him a “Where?” question - “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Now, Philip fails to answer Jesus, or at least, he is not answering the “Where?” question that Jesus asks. Instead, he addresses the imagined and implied “How?” question – he’s a step ahead, so he thinks. Even if we knew the where; “How shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip’s answer revolves around resources; in particular – money! The NIV puts it (v7) “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” The original Greek reads, “Two hundred (diakosiōn) denarii (dēnariōn – a day’s wages) of bread not are sufficient for them that each little [piece] one might receive.”

Philip, the logistician, has done the maths and something does not add up here. Philip answers the problem with a problem, which is no answer at all.

Good old Andrew then comes to the rescue … sort of … he plucks up courage to speak up and presents a ‘solution’ but with a caveat (v9) “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Although Andrew is trying to help towards the “Where?” with his “Here …”, he is also fixated on the present resources, or apparent lack of resources - also stuck on the “How?” – “How far …?”.

Andrew also presents more problems, not only with the maths (the numbers), but also the quality – with his kríthinos (barley) loaves – regarded as "an inferior bread”. Pliny and some of the Jewish writers describe barley as food fit for beasts. Suetonius speaks of a turgid rhetorician as a 'barley orator,' inflated like barley in moisture. Livy relates how cohorts which had lost their standards were ordered barley for food.

Philip and Andrew’s responses, remind us that, all too often, when God presents us with an opportunity to partner with him in miraculous multiplication we tend to stick with familiar addition – even when what God is asking of us just doesn’t add up. Our minds and eyes are drawn to our own resourcefulness, experience and expectations.

We read John’s insightful comment regarding Jesus’ questioning Philip (v6) “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” Before the five loaves and two fish are even made mention, Jesus had the miraculous multiplication in mind. Jesus did not need Philip’s logistics or financial acumen, nor Andrew’s quantity and quality assessment of the meagre offering. Jesus knew how this was going to go down and play out that day.

I have drawn comfort from the fact that what was offered in faith, that day, though seemingly too small and too shoddy, when received into Jesus’ hands with thanksgiving, was multiplied “as much as they wanted” (v11) and with more to spare.

When Jesus asks you a question, think about what he is actually asking and why he is asking it of you. He may be testing you. I don’t think this was a test to see if Philip would pass or fail, but rather a test as to the substance or quality of his faith, faced with a crowd of need. I’m thankful that Jesus is more than willing to take what quantity and quality I have to offer - my “barley bread and small fish” faith - and multiply the miraculous and more besides – I’m thankful it doesn’t add up!