By J.R. Miller
The importance of the miracle of the loaves and fish is shown in the fact that it is the only one of the miracles which all the four evangelists record. Jesus sought rest for His disciples, who were very weary, thus showing His thoughtfulness for them, and took them away. But the looked-for rest was not realized, for the people flocked after Him and a great multitude thronged about Him in a little while, interrupting His rest and calling Him to minister again to the people.
A picture in the Dore gallery represents a great throng of people, rich and poor, young and old, kings and peasants, all turning beseeching looks toward a far-away Figure. It is the Christ, clothed in robes of dazzling whiteness, bearing a cross, beckoning with uplifted hand to these broken-hearted ones and sorrow-laden ones--to come to Him for rest. This is always a true picture of Jesus. He invites all the weary and the needy to Him. Wherever He is, those who are hungry-hearted or in distress--are drawn to Him. It was so in the old Galilean days. He could scarcely get a moment's rest or quiet. The people would follow Him to His retreats--when He sought to be alone. They would break in upon Him--even when he was at His prayers. It still remains true that there is something in Christ which draws all men to Him. He had something to give to men which they needed and which no other could give to them.
Jesus cares for our physical needs as well as our spiritual needs. When He saw the multitude about Him in the wilderness, His heart was moved with compassion for them. We sometimes forget this part of Christ's thought for us. We know that He cares for our spiritual needs, and has grace ready for every need; but we too often fail to remember that our bodily needs are also in His thoughts. Many people do not even pray to God about their secular affairs; they do not ask Him for help in their business or in their household matters. But really nothing which concerns us, is a matter of indifference to Him. He who feeds the hungry birds--will care for His children.
Jesus spoke of the matter of the feeding of these people to Philip, asking him what they should do. The record says that He did this to test Philip. Jesus is continually proving His disciples, putting them to the test, to bring out their faith, and to train them in serving. He is constantly sending to us cases of need--to see if we will help them, and that we may learn how to help them. He wishes to draw out our interest, our love, our sympathy, our tenderness, our thoughtfulness, and to teach us to do the works of mercy, which He leaves us in this world to do. The disciples could not see any possible way of feeding the multitude in the wilderness, and yet the Master meant that they should feed them. Their little blessed and used, proved enough. We think we cannot meet the needs and the hungers which appeal to us--but we can, if we will. We do not seem able to do much--but even our few words spoken kindly, our tears of sympathy, our expression of love--He can use to do great good to the faint and weary before us.
In answer to our Lord's question, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." Andrew found a boy in the company who had five barley loaves and two little fish. Happy boy--to be in that crowd that day with His basket of provisions. Just why he had the provisions with him, we are not told. His small supply was accepted and used by Christ in the working of a great work of kindness. This incident shows what good even a child with Christ can do. It was a young girl who carried to Syria the news of the prophet's power which led to the healing of the proud general's leprosy (see 2 Kings 5). Every child who studies the story, should be impressed by the fact that even with His small possessions, he can do great things when Christ works with him and uses him.
We should carefully study the method of this miracle. There were several steps. To begin with, the disciples brought the loaves to Jesus. If they had not done this, if they had begun feeding the people with what they had, without first bringing it to the Master for His blessing--it would not have gone far. We must bring our small resources to Christ and put them into His hands, that He may use them. When we have done this, no one can tell the measure of good that may be wrought, even by the smallest abilities. Whatever it is you have in your hand, you can use for God, and He will put His power into it. Then it will accomplish God's will. We need never say we can do nothing with our small ability or resources. God is not dependent on human power.
Notice what Jesus did in working this sign. First, He made the people sit down, that they might be quiet. They could not have been fed while moving about in a crowd. We must do our work in an orderly way. We must get quiet and still--if we would have Christ feed us. Then, when the multitude was still, Jesus gave thanks and blessed the loaves before He gave them to the disciples. The blessing of God makes rich. We ought to pray continually that Christ's touch may be upon us and upon the things we are doing. The letter you write to a discouraged friend--lay first before Christ for His blessing, and then it will carry comfort and cheer. The flowers you will carry to a sick room--make a little prayer first that Christ's blessing may be upon them, that they may go laden with the fragrance of His love. Then their power to do good will be increased.
We are told in the other gospel records, that Jesus broke the bread before giving food to the disciples. Bread must be broken before it can be eaten. The body of Jesus must be broken, before it could become bread for the world. Often Jesus must break us and our gifts, before He can make us food for others. We should think also of the responsibility of the disciples that day. Jesus passed the bread through their hands to the hungry multitude beyond them. If they had merely fed themselves with what Jesus gave them, not passing it on, there would have been no miracle and the hungry thousands sitting on the hillside would not have been fed.
We are now the disciples, standing between the Master and the hungry people. Into our hands come the blessings of the gospel, and we must pass them to those about us and beyond us. If we feed only ourselves, take the comfort and the grace for our own lives, and do not pass on the broken bread, we have disappointed our master and have failed in our duty as His helpers and co-workers, also leaving the waiting people unfed.
After the miracle, we have a lesson on frugality and carefulness. The disciples were bidden to gather up the broken pieces that were left over, that nothing might be wasted. "Waste not; want not," says the proverb. It seems remarkable that He would could so easily multiply the few loaves into a meal for thousands, should be so particular about saving the fragments that remained. But He would teach us economy by His own example. No matter how great our abundance may be--we never should waste anything. After we have fed at our tables, there always are hungry people who would be glad for the pieces that are left.
One day Thomas Carlyle stopped suddenly at a street crossing and stooping, picked up something out of the mud, even at the risk of being knocked down and run over by passing vehicles. With his bare hands he gently rubbed the mud from it. He then almost reverently carried it to the pavement and laid it down on a clean spot on the curbstone. "That," said the old man in a tone of tenderness he rarely used, "is only a crust of bread. Yet I was taught by my mother never to waste anything; above all, bread, more precious than gold. I am sure the little sparrows or a hungry dog will get nourishment from this bit of bread."
The lesson on the sin of wastefulness applies to other things besides bread--to fragments of time, of energy, of influence, of affection. Many people waste whole years in the course of their lives--in the little fragments which they lose every day--one minute here, five minutes there, and ten minutes later. If, at the end of a year, they could gather up all these fragments which they have wasted, they would have many basketfuls of golden time in which they might do much good. In the mint, where gold and silver coins are made, the sweeping of the floors are all carefully searched through for fine particles of precious metals; and it is said that during a year large sums are recovered in this way. If only we would learn to waste nothing which passes through our hands--we would be far richer at the end of our life, and the world would be richer for our living. We should gather up the fragments, the finest golden dust, that nothing may be lost!