For the past few days, I have been reading about one of Jesus' many miracles - the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It is interesting to note that this miracle is perhaps one of the most popular ones in Jesus' days. Little wonder all the four gospels documented it. Apart from this, it was perhaps one of his miracles that affected the most number of people - five thousand men, apart from women and children. If the data comparing the ratio of men to women in "spiritual" gathering is anything to go by, then we would be counting > 10,000 people present at this meeting.
Let's take a closer look at what happened here, and lessons to learn from it, especially in these times.
The disciples had just returned from a very successful evangelistic outreach. The master gave them power before the task, and they exercised this successfully - healing the sick and preaching the good news. Jesus took them aside into a solitary place when they returned back. However, the crowd got wind of this, and followed them. In fact, one of the gospels said that the crowd went ahead of them to the other side. But this wasn't the problem. They had an exhausted and a hungry crowd, who needed food, and needed it fast. The 1st problem they had was that they were in the desert, a solitary place - in the middle of nowhere. No shelter. No kiosks. No supermarkets. No hotels. Just in the middle of nowhere. Add this to the fact that it was already getting dark. It was already late evening, and they didn't have much time to come up with a very detailed and well thought out plan or solution. You can guess they were running out of time and of ideas too. The disciples were very concerned. How would they handle such a crowd? How much would they have to spend to feed them? I can imagine Peter asking the accountant how much was left in the purse. Hear Philip already advising "two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them all to have just a bite". Andrew, perhaps with the optimism that was as a result of the successful evangelistic outreach then opined "there is a little boy here with five barley loaves and two fishes, but that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this". In one sentence, he gave an idea and seems to kill the same idea he gave. This was the situation before Jesus stepped in, performed His most popular miracle, and left us with great lessons to glean from. May I share some of these with you?
1. The easiest way out is not always the best way out
After all the initial permutations and analysis, the disciples came up with a verdict - send the people away, to nearby villages and towns, where they can get something to eat, and places to sleep. It seemed a pretty good idea, didn't it? "Let's not take responsibility for them". “We don't have what it takes to solve their problem". Let's just take the easy way out - send them away. After all, they won't blame us if we do. They would know we care for their safety and for their belly. Jesus however would not have that. He was not one to shy away from a challenge. He would never send anyone away empty handed. “You give them something to eat", he instructed His disciples. The easy way out of a problem is not always the best solution. Imagine if the crowd had been dismissed, we would have missed the record of this miracle and the lessons from it. What challenges are you facing at the moment? May I encourage you not to just take the easy way out? Don't give up on yourself and on your dreams because of the prevailing obstacles. Don't run away from a problem, thinking that would solve it. Face it head on, and trust God to give you the wisdom to address it. Don't compromise on your integrity just to get that job! You don't have to secure that contract by doing what everyone else is doing. You don't have to sleep with a guy just to prove that you love him, and get him to marry you. Hold yourself to high standards. Don't take the easy way out - it is often the loser’s way.
2. Break it down
Jesus taught another very powerful principle here - break it down to small chunks. He told his disciples “Make them sit down in groups of fifties". Why would he say this? Couldn't He go ahead and feed the > 5,000 people all at once? I am sure he could have. Here, he was showing us how to break down our “big" problems into smaller chunks. He was confirming the saying that the easiest way to eat an elephant is one piece at a time. I believe that whatever Jesus asked the disciples to do in this story, he wanted them to test it with a group of 50 first, learn what works and what doesn't work, and improve as they go to another set of 50.
Recently, I was leading a discussion in a large group. In order to make it participative, we broke down the group into 4, and each group had to rotate through different booths to learn different things. I must confess that the 1st group we handled was very clumsy and almost a disaster. We had planned how the session would go to the finest detail. However, we were just testing all my plans with this group. It didn't go that well, even in our own estimation. By the time the 2nd group came, we had removed all the things that didn't work with the 1st group and came up with a refined way of passing the message. By the time we were handling the 4th group, it was a blast and it became a discussion point for the rest of the meeting. I believe this was what Jesus was trying to teach here. Break it down. Attack your problems in phases. Don't be overwhelmed by the sheer weight and size of your issue. If you break it down to simpler bits then, your "big" problem would be easier to solve. If you see that ladder as individual rungs, climbing won't be that tough.
I would share 2 more lessons I learnt in my next post. Until then, stay fit in Him!