For When Jesus Provides, Just Not How We Wanted
“Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.” (Mark 6:41-44, NLT)
So if you couldn’t tell by now, I’m using my quarantine time to read through the gospel of Mark, and I’m being really blessed by all these stories that I thought I knew like the back of my hand. I love it
when I read through a story and find something I never saw before. I’m sure all my grew-up-in-Sunday-school friends know exactly what I’m talking about… having certain stories so drilled and told and retold that the meaning of the scripture becomes background noise.
So over the past few years, one of my favorite things about reading these corners of the Bible is finding little details that dust off the religious expectations I’ve built around them.
Our key verse is a well-known one: Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand. Jesus arrives in a region off the Sea of Galilee to a mob of people. The disciples go out to teach, heal, and encourage the people, and then try to draw away to rest after a full day of ministry. On this day, even Jesus agrees that they need some well-deserved rest from the crowds, but upon seeing their need, Jesus has compassion on the crowd and continues to preach and spend time with the people.
As dinner time rolls around, the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Send all these people back to their homes so they can eat and we can go feed ourselves.” Jesus answers them, “You feed them.” I can imagine the disciples’ surprise at this. Jesus wants these poor guys to feed FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE on the Biblical equivalent of minimum wage. Once again, the disciples fell into the trap of seeing the world through their human eyes, rather than through Jesus’ ability.
So Jesus, knowing that the disciples need a little push to think outside of the box, encourages them to get creative and see what they already have. The best they can come up with is five loaves of bread and two fish, which Jesus ultimately prays over and turns into a meal large enough to feed everyone and then have leftovers.
Here’s what I got: First of all, Jesus provided using what the people already had. He didn’t just pull something out of thin air– although He would be perfectly capable of that. Why? Because the one lesson we can learn from every single one of Jesus’ miracles, is that He always chooses to work miracles and exhibit His glory in a way that is accessible to the person that is the recipient of His blessing. He will never come to us in a way that we won’t believe or understand. He never goes above our level of faith in Him so that we don’t miss Him entirely.
So for the disciples, who were already not in the right mindset, and for the people, who had never seen Jesus work a miracle, Jesus decided to work through what was already made available to the people.
The other thing I notice is that Jesus provides both simple and extravagant. He is extravagant in the sense that He provides enough food for the whole crowd of 5,000+ people to not only be satisfied but to also fill twelve more baskets of food after the meal was over. He blessed them with more than what was necessary. He didn’t just provide, but He gave in abundance. However, He provided simply. He worked a miracle using the two most basic food staples in the Jewish diet: bread and fish. He didn’t provide enough surf and turf for five thousand. He didn’t serve up tons of racks of ribs.
He made a meal for the entire crowd of believers that was both extravagant and humble. So yes, Jesus is our provider, but when we pray for something, He will provide for our need above what we could have expected, but not in the way we would have expected. It’s not that it’s not outside of His power, but it is that He wants to prove His power to the degree that you will still rely on Him as the provider.
And I know that I fail to recognize this at times, but that is what we should desire in the first place because it is the thing that not only proves His glory, but it also keeps us firmly rooted to Him. If Jesus were to bless us exactly to our parameters, specifications, and request to the letter, then it would only make our propensity to come to Him as a wish-granting genie all the more prevalent.
So instead, He does what’s best for us: He gives us bread and fish because it teaches us to remain reliant on His ability to provide for our needs. He gives us more than enough to satisfy because He loves us.
That is the good God that we serve: A God who gives us what He knows we need, what we least expect, and to a degree that satisfies deeply. All because He loves us and loves us well.