While all four of the Gospel writers tell the story of the feeding of the 5,000, John is the only one who remembers that it was a little boy who had the five loaves and two fish which Jesus multiplied into enough for everyone with 12 baskets full left over. John’s is a very grown-up, theological gospel and children do not figure in it much. Jesus is never a child, there is no story about blessing the children or stating the necessity of having a child-like faith.
So I do not doubt the accuracy of John’s memory about a boy providing the food for the feeding of the 5,000. After all, what adult do you know who would part with his or her dinner, with no other prospects in sight? What adult would have any optimistic view about sharing such a little bit of food with such a multitude of people? We adults are represented in this story by Philip, who says, “200 days wages would not buy enough bread for each of these people to have a little!” We are represented by Andrew, who reported about the boy who had five loaves and two fish, then said, “But what are they among so many?” We are represented by scholars and teachers through the years who try to reduce the size of this story by saying that the boy’s unselfishness probably shamed the rest of the people into bringing out the hidden stashes of food they actually had with them.
The little boy is the story here. He had the child’s mind set that anything is possible in the world. He had the child’s faith which allowed him to be willing to give what he had to be used by Jesus. Children understand that the world is amazing place where unexpected things happen, so they are more willing to take such risks. And because the boy gave his food to Jesus, the multitude was fed.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus would have done if no one had given any food to be used? Certainly he had the power to create food out of nothing. God provided manna every day for the Israelites in the wilderness journey to the promised land. Jesus could have done it, but I wonder if he would have. I’m thinking that if nobody had given Jesus anything to work with, the crowd might have just gone home hungry that night.
Leonard Sweet writes, “Jesus likes the child’s solution. He uses the little boy’s gift to feed the people. While the text does not say that the child had faith in Jesus’ ability to create a miracle, this child’s heartfelt gift does indicate that his vision and hope were not limited by the accepted norms of the day. He saw possibility, not puniness, in those five loaves and two fish. The child taught the disciples a lesson: they should have been looking for ways to succeed, not looking for excuses to fail.” (Homiletics, July, 1997, p. 24)
This story is overflowing with stewardship implications, in my mind. Since this is fresh on our minds from just having brought our pledges to be dedicated, I’d like to focus on a few of those stewardship implications this morning. Stewardship is not a static thing, or it should not be. As we go through life, as we experience God’s work in our lives, as our faith hopefully deepens and broadens, our stewardship of our time, talents, and possessions should change as well. As you think about where you are in the stewardship trajectory of faith, here are some observations to ponder.
First, giving to Jesus is an extraordinary act of faith. Why do I say this? Well, John tells us that there were five thousand men present on the occasion of this miracle. Other gospel writers indicate there were many women and children in addition to the five thousand men. Out of all these people, one person made a gift to Jesus.
You may not be facing odds quite that long, but you are surrounded by many people in life who either give nothing to Jesus or give in a very token manner. The boy could have looked around at all those people and said, “Well, if they are not giving anything I’m not going to either. Why should I give away my meal?” We might be tempted as well when we see that the neighbors who are not active in church have a new boat in the driveway or a vacation home. Surely all of us have moments when we think, “Gosh, just think what I could do with that extra $2,000 if I quit giving my money to Jesus! Lots of people around me are not giving anything and they don’t seem to be having any more problems than I have.”
Giving is an extreme act of faith for us as it was for the boy. He had no guarantee that he would get anything back. We read where Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust consume, and thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t get quarterly statements from heaven telling me how big my account is. I have to give, let go, and trust.
Think about the widow in today’s Old Testament story. Elijah came to her home during a drought and famine and asked her for some water and bread. She brought him some water and told Elijah that she was down to her last handful of meal and was preparing to bake one last meal for her son and herself. Elijah asked her to fix him a cake, and promised that if she would then God would replenish her meal and oil until the famine was over. This woman, not even Jewish or a believer in God, was faced with making a gift based on faith – using the last of her meal to prepare food for a stranger, trusting his promise that more would be provided by God. She acted on faith, and the promise proved true.
But extreme faith is required to give to Jesus.
A second implication of the story is that the little boy demonstrates wholehearted and extravagant giving. He doesn’t say, “I’ll give you exactly one-tenth of what I have,” or “I’ll give you some of it, but I have to save some for myself.” He did what was needed in this situation, giving all that he had. That is not required in most situations, but a generous spirit which gives gladly, not grudgingly, is very important. Paul said that “God loves a cheerful giver.”
There is something about money that can turn us into very greedy people. When we don’t have money, we wish we had a lot of it. If we get a lot of money, we might begin thinking we deserve it and we want more. We can become slaves to money, and Jesus told us that we cannot serve two masters, both God and money. The more important money becomes in our lives, the less important God will become. Jesus taught more on this subject than on any other.
Being heavily invested in blue chip stocks can be a wild ride with daily emotional twists and turns. Being heavily invested in gold chip stocks on the heavenly stock exchange should give you great peace of mind and joy.
The third implication I’d like to point out is this. The result of the boy’s faithful, extravagant gift to Jesus is that it is multiplied and accomplishes much more good than the boy ever could have himself. Not only is there enough food for everyone to eat all they want, there are twelve basketfuls left over. In response to the boy’s extravagant gift of everything, God gives back extravagantly. Many people have said to me out of their experience of Christian stewardship that “You can’t outgive God.”
We constantly battle having a mindset that says, “I’m not Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. What difference can my small gift possible make?” Instead of looking for ways to succeed we are looking for excuses to fail. The boy would have never handed over his food if he had started thinking about it realistically. There was no way on this earth that his food could make a dent in the need around him. The same is true for us. There is no way our gift can feed all the hungry or house all those in substandard housing or homeless. Our gift will not provide medical care for everyone who needs it or any other critical need that needs to be done, even in our own community, much less in the world.
Or will it? As we give faithfully, gladly, and extravagantly of our time, our talents, and our money to Jesus we give him something to work with, and we have no idea what he can accomplish with it. “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
David J. Bailey
November 2, 2014
Central Presbyterian Church