Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish

Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish
A Message on John 6:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 13, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

John 6:1-14 (NRSV)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

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Here’s a little Bible trivia for you today. Of all the miracles Jesus performs in the Bible, how many of those miracles appear in all four gospels?

The answer is one. (If you count the accounts of his resurrection as a miracle of his own doing then it would be two, but most people don’t associate the resurrection with the miracles that Jesus performed.) It’s the scripture we read today about feeding the multitudes with two fish and five barley loaves.

This miracle appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The version we read today is the one in John.

Now it’s easy to get confused when discussing feeding the multitudes because according to some scriptures it happened twice, not once. In addition to the one we read today, the scriptures in Matthew 15 and Mark 8 include Jesus and the disciples feeding 4,000 people with seven fish and “a few” loaves. In that account the disciples picked up seven baskets full of leftovers. So don’t get confused.

The scripture we read today from John happens right after Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and gets into a debate with the religious officials who are upset that he did. Jesus tries to convince the religious leaders that he is, indeed, the messiah, but they are stubborn and hard hearted and don’t want to believe it. They just don’t get it.

So Jesus withdraws by going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but the problem is that large crowds followed him. The man just can’t get any rest. He goes up on a mountain and starts teaching, but the crowd continues to get larger and larger.

Jesus asks Phillip where they are going to be able to buy bread to feed everyone. Now it’s not that Jesus didn’t know the answer, but he was basically testing the disciples and setting them up for what was about to come.

Phillip responds that even six-months wages wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for everyone. Andrew points out the young boy with five loaves and two fish, and that is what Jesus uses to perform the miracle.

Now there are some significant things about this scripture that I think we need to know. First of all the scriptures tell us the boy had barley loaves of bread, not wheat. Barley is a grain that is still grown today. When I think of it I think about Cambell’s soup, but it can also be ground like wheat and used to make bread.

Barley is the earliest grain to mature. Planting and harvest times for grain in the Holy Land are pretty close to what it is here in this part of Texas, believe it or not. The seeds of barley, wheat, oats and other grains are sown usually in November, and then the grain is harvested around April and May. Barley has a shorter life cycle than wheat and oats, so it is the grain that becomes mature first.

I did a little research and found out that it was a tradition in the Jewish community to present an omer, about 3.5 pounds, of the “first fruits” of barley, the first collection of the crop, as a sacrifice at the Temple at Passover. Even if it matured before Passover, it was kept and not eaten until after passover. Likewise the “first fruits” of wheat were presented at the Temple at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

So here’s what I think is the theological significance of the scripture we read today telling us what kind of bread it was: Verse four tells us that the Passover was near. That means the barley might have been ripe but that the wheat, unless it was held over from the previous year, was not available.

I propose that the five barley loaves the boy had might not have been for him and his family to eat, but perhaps was made from the first gleanings of the barley and thus was to be presented as a sacrifice. I’m no expert in bread, except when it comes to eating it, but if I was to have to guess I would say that an omer of ground barley, about 3.5 pounds of barley flour, would make about five loaves of bread, which is what the boy had. Now this is speculation on my part and I may be reading too much into it, but I think it makes sense.

So when the boy gives the five barley loaves to Jesus he was still in effect giving it to God as a sacrifice, only instead of giving it to the priest at the Temple he gives it to Jesus, the incarnation of God. This emphasizes the divinity of Jesus Christ as God himself!

Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life,” and of course he refers to bread as his body during the Last Supper in the Upper Room.

The boy also has two fish. Now when we think of fish to eat we think of fresh fish or frozen fish. What the boy had was probably neither of those two things. Fresh fish doesn’t travel well, so the boy probably had dried or salted fish. Think fish jerky. We have to remember that the people at the time didn’t have refrigeration or the ability to freeze food, so much of it was preserved by drying and/or salting. Drying and/or salting preserved the fish and made it able to be transported.

Now since they were at the Sea of Galilee it could have been fresh, that’s certainly possible, but then we come to the problem of how to cook it on a mountainside.

The fish is theologically significant. One third of the disciples were fishermen. Jesus calls them to follow him, telling them he will teach them how to fish for people. An early symbol for Christianity, when it was against the law, was the fish symbol. It’s still used today. There is even a saying, “You catch ‘em, He’ll clean ‘em.” (Hint: It’s not talking about fish.)

If it had happened in East Texas today we would have gotten gallons of peanut oil and put big pots on propane burners and had us a good ol’ fish fry with hush puppies, fried potatoes, cole slaw, and maybe even some green tomato relish. While that may not be as theologically significant, but it sure tastes good!

So the disciples get the loaves and fish and give them to Jesus. He then asks the people to sit down and then does something he will later repeat as an important part of the last supper: he asks God to bless it.

Now I think it’s important that we don’t skip over this fact. Jesus gives thanks to God for the fish and loaves, and at the Last Supper he gives thanks to God for the bread and the wine. Things always work out better when we ask God to bless something, because God will not bless something that is not good. But when it is good, and when God blesses it, great things happen.

So then they distribute the loaves and then the fishes, and everyone eats (it’s kind of like an “all-you-can-eat-buffet”). Not only does everyone get full, but they have leftovers, 12 baskets full, in fact. But only of the bread. No leftover fish. (It never tastes as good leftover anyway, right?)

There is significance in the number 12 here. After all, there were 12 sons of Jacob that made the 12 tribes of Israel, and there are 12 disciples. The number 12 represents God’s power and authority, completeness.

One more thing I think is important about this scripture we read today: Who is it that has the loaves and fish to begin with? A boy. Not a grownup, not a disciple, not a Pharisee, not a Sadducee, not a Scribe, but a boy. A kid.

Why? I think it’s the same reason that Jesus says not to keep the children from coming to him, because it is to them the kingdom of God belongs. I think it’s the same reason Jesus tell us unless we become like little children we will not enter the kingdom of heaven, or why Isaiah says “and a little child shall lead them.”

Children have hope. They are innocent, curious, and trusting. They have faith and find it easy and quite normal to believe in things they can’t see or understand.

So I think it is significant that it is a child that provides the loaves and fish for the feeding of the multitudes.

And he gave all that he had. It’s kind of like the Widow’s Mite. He didn’t have much, but he gave all of what he had.

I sometimes wonder if in giving the fish and loaves away he worried about getting in trouble at home? Would his parents be mad when he told them what had happened to the two fish and five barley loaves. “We told you to take them to the priest! What happened to them. What did you do with them? Surely you didn’t eat them all yourself, did you? I tell you one thing, if you did you are going to be grounded until the messiah comes, that’s for sure!”

We don’t know, only that he did give. And we are thankful he did.

So, what can we learn from this. What can we take from this ancient experience that is applicable to our modern, digital world?

I think there are a couple of things. The first is that it teaches us not to think in worldly terms.

Phillip, one of the disciples, tried to solve the problem facing them with worldly thinking. When Jesus asked the disciples how they were going to feed the people, Phillip talked about how much money it would take to buy food for everyone. And it was going to be a lot of money!

That’s worldly thinking, not heavenly thinking.

We’re guilty of that same kind of thinking, aren’t we? Our first reaction to a problem is usually a worldly reaction, isn’t it?

“How am I going to be able to afford this?”

“Oh, I can’t wait until I get revenge on ol’ So-and-so.”

“If only I could buy __ then my life would be complete and I would be happy.”

“Why can’t I be as lucky as __? They get all the breaks.”

“I wonder if I can I pay off my Visa bill with my MasterCard?”

You get the idea. How many times in our lives do we turn to God as the last resort instead of the first resort? We try everything in the world to fix it ourselves, but when all that crashes down only then do we take it to God.

It’s kinda like someone having problems with their car, so they get their tools out and tear the engine apart trying to fix it. But they can’t. And so then they have to have the car towed to an auto repair place to have it fixed and everything put back together the way it was supposed to be.

It sure would be more effective to take things to God to begin with. It’s also a lot less stressful.

Think heavenly, not worldly.

Another thing I think we can learn from this scripture is to be willing to give everything to God.

The boy gave all he had to Jesus. He didn’t say, “Hey Jesus, can you make do with just one fish and a couple of barley loaves? How about that? Cause I still need something for myself, you know. I’m hungry. And if you’re going to multiply it anyway it’s just a little bit more of a miracle for you, which is easy for you, being as you’re God and everything, right?”

Here’s a rhetorical question for you: In terms of percentages, how “sold out” are you to Jesus? How willing are you to give him everything, 100 percent?

Do you think about your faith only on Sunday? How often do you read your Bible? Do your actions, the way you live your life, reflect Christian love and charity on Sunday but self-centeredness and meanness the rest of the week?

With regard to your financial giving to the church, do you give God what’s leftover or do you give from your “first fruits”? Do you spend more on “triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiatos” than you give to God?

And do you give your time and talents to the Lord?

Is Jesus Lord of all your life or just some of it. Maybe 35 percent? Or 45 percent on a good week?

There is a song by Audrey Assad titled, “Everything Is Yours.” The words of the chorus are:

“If everything is Yours
Everything is Yours
If everything is Yours
I’m letting it go
No it was never mine to hold”

Like the boy with two fish and five loaves we need to give everything to Jesus. He realized it wasn’t his to hold. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, if we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ serious about the great commission to go and make disciples, then we have to be 100 percent in all the time.

So my challenge for you this week is two fold: 1. Don’t think in worldly terms and 2. Be willing to give all you have to Jesus. Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross for us. Let us willingly give to him.

And if you run across a kid with two fish and five barley loaves, you better pay attention to him.

(Artwork: Attributed to Ambrosius Francken the Elder)

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