The Five Breads And The Two Fish

February 3, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
John 6:1-15

Should [We] Feed The People?

1. Philip and Andrew are on the stage in today's gospel reading. In the reading just three weeks ago the passage that tells about the circumstances where they had become disciples of Jesus was read. Andrew had heard the words of John the Baptizer, "Look, it is the lamb of God," and he then followed Jesus. Philip followed Jesus at the occasion when Jesus had called out to him with "Follow me." Thus, Andrew and Philip both became disciples of Jesus. We, too, here in this place have reached some level of following Jesus at different points in time, though the occasions were each different.

2. But, it doesn't seem to me that the people who follow Jesus should just think of only the lamb of God and look at only Jesus. When one is following him, one must turn his or her eyes in the direction in which Jesus' field of vision is directed. Where do the eyes of Jesus go to look? In today's passage of scripture the text says, "Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw a great crowd of people coming to him." That great crowd was the people who had been following from behind. If we ask why had they been following from behind, the text says that it was "because they saw the signs that Jesus had performed on the sick," (verse two).

3. They saw the healings [done by] Jesus. They saw the love of God being poured out through Jesus upon those who had been suffering and anguished on a continuous basis. Having seen the manifestation of God's love, they most likely had come seeking [for help] and saying, "Me too! Me too!" Many of them must have been sick. Or they must have been from families of the sick. They were the poor. They were the despised. They were the people considered unclean. They were the people who had suffered for a long time. When we look at another gospel account, the text says, "He had great compassion on account of [their] condition as [though] sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach on various matters," (Mark 6:34). [Their] condition of being like sheep without a shepherd -- They are nervous and afraid, they do not understand where they should be going, and they are truly on the verge of destruction. Jesus saw this as the condition they were in.

4. "Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw a great crowd of people coming to him," and then he says to Philip, "Where should we buy bread to feed these people?," (verse five). Jesus was looking at the crowd. He felt that the crowd was hungry. He cared about them. However, Jesus was not thinking by himself, he was not by himself in his having thoughts about them, he was thinking about them along with the disciples, he was wanting them to think with him about the crowd. According to the statement, Philip, who had been following Jesus, was directed in the same direction as Jesus and was facing towards the people [because he had been led to]. He could not help having a bond with them, [though] they were strangers [to him] so far.

5. With all that in place, then something became highly visible. It is that what they themselves had could not be of any help [to the people]. It was their own poverty [that came to light], their impotency. Philip said, "In order for each person to eat a small portion, even two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough," (verse seven). Philip tried to calculate it out the best he could. But even if they had two hundred denarii it would not be enough to meet the people's needs. Speaking of two hundred denarii, it is equivalent to about seven months worth of wages. You wouldn't expect to have such a large amount of money. And no, even if you did it wouldn't be enough any way. Philip did his best to calculate it, and he must have had an echo in his head saying, "It ain't enough. It ain't enough."

6. From the side Andrew cuts into the conversation. He, too, was facing the people, and was probably having all kinds of thoughts. He didn't just think, he also tried to do something. He had found a boy who had some food. But, [his] conclusion was the same [as Philip's]. "Here's a boy who has five barley breads and two fish. However, with as big a crowd as this, it wouldn't be of any use," (verse nine). After all is said and done, it ain't enough. It won't be of any use.

7. Their attitudes are visible from those kinds of statements. They were already fainting. Even though Jesus took great trouble to have them come face to face with things, they were beginning to quit for good in having anything to do with the people. They were about to pull out. When we look at another gospel, the disciples make the following proposal to Jesus. "Please let the people disperse. By doing so, they will go to the nearby villages and countryside to buy something to eat," (Mark 6:36). -- Hey Jesus, please let them all go. Our business is us. Let's just think about ourselves. In short, that's what they are wanting to say.

8. "Let's just think about ourselves." Even churches today may be saying the same thing. Besides by directing our eyes else where, eventually, when we cannot avoid coming face to face with our own poverty, instead we say, let's think just about ourselves. Thus, as the church becomes introverted, when [the people] seek a comfortable meeting for themselves and think only of their own continuation, they may [feel like they do] not need to come face to face with their own poverty and powerlessness. The same thing could be said about individual Christians. Christians [can become] introverted. They do not think of the salvation of other people. They never have anything to do with or come face to face with others, but say, let's think just of our own peace of mind, our own joy, our own personal growth. If we don't face others, we have no need to be troubled over our poverty in not being able to love and our powerlessness in not being able to help. That certainly is the way it is.

9. But, Jesus does not want us to be that way. Jesus wants us to think with him about each and every person that he is thinking of. Right along with him he wants us to come face to face with the world that is suffering and on the verge of destruction. Just as Philip [had to], haven't we already been made to encounter the people we are supposed to come face to face with? It may be family, it may be friends. It may be the people that we have [decided] not to see because when we have to do with them, only our own powerless came out into the open, and we became miserable. Jesus says, "Where should we buy bread to feed these people?"

Jesus Takes The Bread, He Calls Out A Prayer Of Thanksgiving

10. Now, Jesus did speak that way, but the words in the scripture actually continue with "The reason he said that was to test Philip, but he knew what he himself would do," (verse six).

11. The whole thing seems reasonable enough, that Jesus consulted with the disciples not because he doesn't have a clue about what he himself ought to do. Neither is he passing the whole task onto the disciples because he cannot manage it himself. Jesus understands that what the disciples have will be futile. The disciples will get a sense of their poverty. They will feel their own powerlessness. But, from the start Jesus understands the poverty and the powerlessness of the disciples. Jesus had planned on doing something [the whole time].

12. For, the miracle of the bread per se was a message, it was a sign that pointed to what kind of person Jesus was. I didn't read it to you today, but after this in this same chapter, Jesus makes the following announcement. "I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will never hunger, and anyone who believes in me will never thirst," (verse thirty-five). Jesus proclaims that he himself cures the basic hunger and thirst of humanity, and that he himself is able to save and grant eternal life. For that purpose he was willing to give out even his own life and devote it as an offering completely. Thus, Jesus intended to do it on his own.

13. While that is true and all, yet, Jesus does not say, "Since I am doing it all, you, go over there." Through and through Jesus says, "Let's do it together." Whether to the disciples or to us here in this place. [We can] clearly grasp these thoughts of Jesus from this narrative.

14. Please give it some thought. Would it be more sensational to have served bread from out of nowhere, if you were going to give bread via a miracle? I think it was a possiblilty for Jesus. I believe he could have. He could have produced something out of nothing. Yet, Jesus did not do it that way. Jesus accepted the five breads and two fish that a child had. Then he offered a prayer of thanksgiving, and after tearing the bread he began to share it. When you think about it, [the whole thing] is really ridiculous. Though they counted only the men, there are five thousand persons. He did that before such a huge crowd. He dared to do something that seemed like "There's no point in doing that at all!" -- Whereupon, an act of God was revealed by it and the people were completely satisfied!

15. The disciples did not forget what happened. Indeed, they could not possibly forget even if they wanted to; for, the experiences of the later disciples after them and the experiences of the church later were truly continuations of this. Hasn't what the church has been doing just what seems like "There's no point in doing that at all!?" Prime examples of that are baptism and the Lord's Supper. What is really the point in submerging once into water or pouring water over one's head? What is really the point in sharing a little piece of bread and eating it? The Lord's Supper will be observed today as well. What is really the point in just eating these little bread looking fragments? When viewed by the eyes of the world, that's how it just might look. However, while the church has been continuing to do this for two thousand years, just like at that time, the work of God has been revealed. Christ the bread of life has been shared, and the people have been made to live, satisfied and saved by what God has given.

16. Furthermore, The Gospel According to John tells us on purpose that these five breads and two fish was something that the boy had. I don't think that Jesus had taken up the bread and the fish involuntarily and then shared them without his consent. The child must have offered them to Jesus. Even though Andrew said, "It wouldn't be of any use," the boy presented the bread and the fish. Then the Lord made use of the bread and the fish that had been presented joyfully. [He had probably used it] to show [something] to Andrew and the other adults. The adults had come around before saying, "What will this wind up as? It will probably do no good." Because of that [they] hesitated to offer it up. But, the child wasn't that way. If it's somebody he likes, even a half licked up candy, he would offer it up, "I give it to you, please."

17. But, soon even the disciples would become like that boy eventually. After Christ would rise from the dead later, the disciples would be commanded to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to everything that is created." In contrast to the five thousand, they would now have to come face to face with the entire world. They were no more than a group of a poor handful of disciples. If you looked at what they had, it must have seemed like "It would not be of any use." If you looked at them themselves, it would seem that way. All of them are disciples who had abandoned and forsaken [Christ] when he was crucified. They couldn't help but say, "Little me just won't be of any good use." But still and all, they offered what they had, their abilities, and themselves as is. They became like the child! Christ accepted every bit [of them], he used [them] in order to give the world the bread of life. That's the history of the church.

18. We should also give offerings [like that boy did] to Christ. Of what we have. Even ourselves. Christ will use [what we give him]. In order to share the bread of life with the world. He will surely use [what we give] to share the bread of life with the people he has caused us to meet and come face to face with, and to grant them life and to save them.