fishes and loaves

by Michael Blue, Davar Board Member


I recently spent time studying Mark’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. It is a story that is so familiar that it can seem unremarkable when I read it. However, as I spent time reading and studying this passage, I became moved and encouraged in my own faith journey and generosity.

This miracle comes in the middle of a time when Jesus and His disciples were trying to rest and recover from tragedy (the death of John the Baptist) and the strain of ministry. Instead of rest, they were met with a multitude of people. Some estimates are as many as 20,000 people. While the disciples seemed irritated with the unexpected crowd of people, Jesus was moved to compassion as He taught them and healed them.

As evening drew near, the disciples were ready for their rest and approached Jesus with a suggestion: “This place is deserted, and it is already late. Send them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat” (Mark 6:35b-36). The disciples have discerned that there is a huge logistical problem – the people are hungry, and they don’t have food. So, their very practical solution is to “send them away.” It only makes sense. The people are hungry and tired, so dismiss them to go find some food.

Jesus’s response is almost comical in the absurdity of its implications, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37a). I can only imagine what the disciples must have been thinking … “Feed 20,000 people, with what? Even if we had known that was our responsibility, it would have been logistically impossible in this remote of a place.” The disciples want Jesus to send the people away, and Jesus says solve the problem.

The response of the disciples is reminiscent of how I often respond to overwhelming problems around me. They began counting their resources and calculating the cost to solve the problem. When they see that they do not have enough, they throw up their hands. Two hundred days wages (at least) would be required to solve this problem. Way more than they had. When they inform Jesus of the impossibility of feeding these people and the overwhelming cost, surely, they expected Him to relent and dismiss the crowd. It is like they are looking at Jesus and saying, “this problem cannot be solved because we do not have enough money.

Jesus, seemingly unbothered by the dismissiveness of the disciples, asks a simple question, “what DO you have?”[1] Jesus doesn’t want them to focus on their lack or even the size of the problem, He wants them to simply look at what He has already given to them. And so, He tells them to go find out. Of course, what they have is woefully inadequate; enough to feed 1 or 2 people a light dinner. Unfazed, Jesus takes what they have, looks up to heaven to acknowledge the One who provided the food, and then gives the bread and fish back to the disciples to hand out. It then says that Jesus “kept giving [the bread and fish] to his disciples to set before the people” (Mark 6:41b). And so, the disciples kept coming back to Jesus to hand out pieces of bread and fish and He kept giving them food to distribute. Miraculously all 20,000 people were fed. They were not just fed; they were fed so much they were fully satisfied. There was even enough left over for each of the disciples to eat a feast as well.

[1] Literally, “how many loaves do you have? Go and see” (Mark 6:38).


A simple question in the face of an overwhelming and impossible problem. Unfortunately, too often we think God is actually asking us if we have enough, when He’s only asking us what we have. The question is not a trick, it is not a backhanded rebuke, it is a matter-of-fact question.

I believe this is the big lesson for me in Mark’s recounting of this miracle. God has solutions that I am unaware of and so my job is not to solve the problem, it is to bring what I have to God and let Him solve the problem. Because here is what is so incredible in this miracle – whatever the disciples had was enough. If they had had 50 loaves of bread or one. If they had 100 fish or 10. God wasn’t asking them to solve an impossible problem, He was asking them to bring the problem and what they had to Him. Then, graciously, Jesus gave the bread and fish back to the disciples to hand out. He invited them into the middle of the miracle. It was their hands that delivered the meals to those people. It was their feet that carried the food between the groups of people and Jesus. It was their eyes that got to watch in wonder as the fish and bread never ran out … until every need was met.

The point of this miracle was not to demonstrate the sacrifice or the generosity of the disciples, it was to demonstrate the all-sufficiency of Jesus. You do not read this miracle and praise the disciples (even though they gave everything they had to eat to others). You read this parable and declare, “God is a god of provision! Praise God!”

What we realize in this miracle is that what we have is wholly inadequate to the needs of the world, but God is wholly adequate to take what we bring and satisfy the souls and hearts of people far beyond what we could ever ask or think. Once these loaves and fish were placed into the hands of Jesus, they became His. They became associated with Him. And when they became associated with Jesus, they ceased to be ordinary.

When we put our things and our lives into the hands of God, they too cease to be ordinary in any way. Whatever we bring into association with Christ, will become sufficient for the occasion to which God has called it. It ceases to be ordinary.

The question we all must answer when we look around and see need that is far beyond our ability to satisfy is the same as Jesus posed to the disciples … what do you have? Not, “is it enough for the task?” but, “what do you have?” God asks no more from us than this.

Here’s the encouragement for you in this Christmas season. What you have is enough! God is inviting you into a work that is beyond your imagination because His provision is beyond your comprehension. God is inviting you into a miracle that will multiply and increase your faith.

Each of us has the opportunity to take what we have, put it in the hands of God, and trust that it is enough. Whatever we bring to God, He will use and multiply. He transforms it from a meal for two into a banquet for 20,000. Let’s stop getting caught in the trap of trying to help God solve problems He doesn’t have. Let’s stop looking at problems, counting our resources, and then telling God there isn’t enough. God will never ask you for more than He has already given you. Because what He has given you is enough.

When we hold on too tightly to our bread and fish or think we need to multiply it before it is useful, we do not frustrate the purposes of God, we miss out on the miracle. We miss out on being astounded that God would see fit to take our dinner and multiply it into a banquet overflowing with the abundance of His house and abounding in the bounty of the river of His delights.

Will you bring what you have to God this year and then watch as He invites you into the miracle that He is working? I hope so!

Merry Christmas!

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