Of Loaves and Fishes
We've heard the story dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Five thousand men (not to mention the thousands of women and children) listen at the feet of Jesus. They get hungry, as humans tend to do, and Jesus decides to do something about it. He turns to his disciples and inquires as to their suggestions. Using logic and simple math, they respond with the impossibility of the situation. Jesus works a miracle, and everyone eats.
Pastors and teachers elaborate on different points, mainly around God's sufficiency and power.
All very well and good, but what about the little boy, the one who offered up his five loaves and two fish? What happened to him? Sure, he ate that meal along with everyone else, but then what?
Truth be told, that little boy would have eaten a hearty meal anyway, one of the few—perhaps one of the only—able to do so. And his five loaves and two fish might have fed him for another couple of meals. That boy had planned ahead.
So I wonder, did Jesus give him a basket or two of the leftovers? Or did the boy walk away wonder-eyed and empty-handed?
How could these gospel writers omit such an important detail?
Recently, my husband and I joined the ranks of those experiencing reduced income. We scrutinize every nickel that leaves our hands. "Could we have saved it?" we ask, and "What can we cut?" Superfluous expenses fall to our feet like branches from a pruned tree. We figure and refigure our budget on spreadsheets, trying to make the numbers match.
And in our examination, we consider our giving. We need this meal. We need it for lunch, and we need it for the next few days. How can we afford to offer up our last bit of fish and loaves?
So when I read this passage, the question nags. What happens to the boy on the other end of the miracle?
The biblical writers offer no answer to the question. What they don't say:
"And the boy left with a basket forever filled with fish and loaves."
Or, "As Jesus lifted the food from the boy's hand, he promised the boy a secure future of full fishnets and in-demand business."
Or even, "After the disciples collected the twelve baskets full, they returned five loaves and two fish to the boy who gave his lunch."
Given these lines, dropping our check into the offering plate would present no problem. But God doesn't promise a comfortable life. He doesn't promise cable or sushi or new books. Instead, he promises life, and life to the fullest. Christ said, "I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 10:10 , NET). This life abounds in the hope of the resurrection, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the peace of Christ that transcends all understanding. We give out of this abundance. We give joy, peace, kindness, love, but we always give time, commitment, and money.
At some point in our lives, we all step into the well-worn sandals of the boy in the story. Times are hard. We barely have enough for ourselves, but Jesus asks us to give anyway. We don't know what happens economically on the other side of the giving, but our hope is not in economics. Our hope is in Christ.