What do you get when you when Jesus meets a young boy in a crowd with five loaves and two fish? A meal to feed 5,000.
The context of this miracle gives us even more reason for awe and wonder. Things weren't going well for Jesus. He'd been rejected in his hometown (Matthew 13:53-58) His cousin and forerunner John the Baptist was beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). There are plenty of times in the church when we would be wise to remember that Jesus strength was revealed most often when things were going from bad to worse.
Jesus had gone away from the crowds looking for a quiet place, some speculate that Jesus had good reasons to look for a quiet place. McGarvey and Pendleton's THE STANDARD BIBLE COMMENTARY argues,
"[He'd] Heard about John's death. The excitement caused by this event, and the efforts to use Jesus as a leader in revolt, (see Mark 6:29), constituted another reason why Jesus should withdraw from the multitude.Jesus was looking for quiet; but the crowds came looking for him. Everyone in the crowd had their own reason to come looking for him. Some came believing Jesus would heal, some came wondering what he would teach, some came hoping they could meet him and hear him, some came just because their parents said they should come. Some came seeking revolution and Jesus taught the crowd who'd gathered out in that deserted place for some time. There's no mention in Matthew about what he taught, just that he taught for some time that day.
As the day passed the disciples started worrying about food for the crowd. Jesus replied to their worries, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." (Matthew 14:16 NIV) They were flummoxed naming what little they had. We can say the same things in our daily ministry. We don't have enough money, time, people, knowledge, experience, patience, will, or strength. Jesus replied to the disciples doubts instructing them to go ahead and pass out the food to everyone. Craig S. Keener observed,
God is not intimidated by the magnitude of our problem. The disciples saw the size of the need and the littleness of the human resources available; Jesus saw the size of the need and the greatness of God's resources available. Often God calls us to do tasks for him that are technically impossible-barring a miracle. IVP NT Commentary Series MatthewsJesus miracle didn't start with human faith. It started with the power of God. Jesus' power alone was enough to feed thousands from the young boys food. That power alone is what keeps the church going and keeps ministry happening even in times of great need and want. The miracle happened not because of human will; but because of God's will that transformed the deserted place into place of feasting.
A warning to preachers: It's tempting to turn this story into a moral tale telling everyone to go and do likewise; but that underestimates the power of God displayed by Jesus. He didn't tell everyone to empty out their bags for their secret snacks; instead he told his friends to keep on passing out the food until everyone was full.
ADDENDUM (July 29, 2008)
Lectionary Singer caught me red handed mixing up miracle stories from one Gospel to the next. I can assure all of you that it will happen again. And here I was trying to keep them all straight for once.
Matthew's story uniquely puts emphasis not on the boy but on the disciples having the food. Now in my third reading this week I think the focus is more on Jesus than anybody else in this story. Jesus told them plainly to bring the food here. He blessed it, he broke it here, and he told them to go ahead and pass it out.