Feeding the 5000 was more subversive than you think

Jesus wants to turn our charity and our “missions” on its head. 

We already know from Luke 4:18 that Jesus came to earth to bring good news to the poor. Now, here in Luke 9, we catch a glimpse of the world-rocking way he intends to bring that good news. 

Jesus is moved with compassion for the jostling mob of 5,000 unfed peasants. So his team suggests a common solution:  “Send them away to find their own food and lodging.” (Luke 9:12) 

In other words, ‘Let these people fend for themselves. They have two arms and two legs! Let them deal with their own problems. They should pull themselves up by the bootstraps.’ 

For many of us, already consumed by our own problems and concerns, this is also our response to the needs of the world. 

But Jesus doesn’t buy this analysis or their solution. Instead, he asks his disciples to engage with the people and their need: “YOU give them something to eat,” he says directly in Luke 9:13. Yes YOU!

At this point, the disciples are incredulous, maybe even a little irritated. The needs are overwhelming and the resources so few: 5,000 guys and their families, all with rumbling tummies. 

If we’re honest, who hasn’t felt like this in the face of a broken world? When we hear of the 100,000 refugees that have poured out of Syria in the past weeks, or the victims of Ebola in West Africa, we can’t help feeling overwhelmed.

The disciples respond in the way most of us would. They wonder if they are supposed to go and buy enough food for all these hungry people. In other words, they consider meeting the need themselves with the pathetic resources they have on hand, in a one-way act of benevolence. This is the traditional Charity Model. Most of us are engaged in this form of charity in one way or another. It’s a good start, but Jesus wants to take us much deeper.

Luckily the disciples realize the limitations of this approach to meet the vast amount of need in front of them. And just as they run out of ideas, Jesus shows them a different way. A third way.
He begins with the resources already available in the community - a pathetic handful of loaves and fish (Luke 9:13).

And in this simple act of wisdom, he includes the poor (and the young!) and what they have to offer as part of the solution. Too often – we overlook the significance of this beautiful act. But it is the key to everything.

Then Jesus prays, inviting God to work.

For without God’s Spirit – we are left with merely human effort.

He asks his disciples to organize the people, forming temporary mini-communities, so that they can break bread together. And the rest is history. A beautiful miracle of sharing and abundance takes place that meets the immediate need and revolutionizes the way the disciples will understand community transformation from that point on.

It is truly significant that a few years later, the earliest disciples of Jesus were attempting to live out his teachings and the things that they had experienced together with Him.

 Opening our home in Vancouver up to friends struggling with addiction and homelessness.

Opening our home in Vancouver up to friends struggling with addiction and homelessness.

We witness in the early chapters of Acts that they actually began to share their bread prayerfully on a daily basis. Miracles, reminiscent of the feeding of the 5,000, began to break out—people were sharing their property and possessions with all who had need. And the incredible outcome is recorded for us all to grapple with in Acts 4:34: 

“God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”

Now, THAT’S what transformation looks like.