14 When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” 17 They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 18 And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.
This is the infamous story of when Jesus feeds the five thousand. If we pay attention to how the story unfolds, we learn that there is one very little yet very important misunderstanding in common theology. Jesus didn’t feed the crowd, the disciples did! The disciples asked Jesus to send the people away and He said, “give them something to eat!” Because of our lack of details in this story, we tend to give all the credit to Jesus in this one. Yes, the disciples doubted and it was Jesus who blessed the food and it was multiplied, but it was the disciples who organized the people and served them the food until they were satisfied.
Jesus is giving us an example of church deacons. If we fast forward, these very disciples of Christ ordered the group of followers to do the very same thing (Acts 6)! Our God possesses and creates all the resources in the universe, but He charges us to distribute and care for them. We see in the Old Testament the story of Joseph whose faithfulness to God led him to be in charge over all of Egypt. God provided the resources but He called Joseph to steward them.
In John 21 we see the same principle with a bit of a different context. We read the story of Jesus restoring Peter’s unfaithfulness during Christ’s torture and crucifixion:
15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.
Our stewardship of resources and caring for others comes out of the heart of loving Jesus. We usually see this passage as one of restoration or even a commissioning of Peter as a pastor or leader of the people. Jesus is also putting clear importance over what is to happen as a result of our love for Jesus. Three times Jesus tells Peter what to do as a result of his love for Jesus. We are to care for the people. Jesus’ brother James also tells us in chapter 1 of his letter to the Christians spread abroad:
27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Our faithfulness to God is directly seen in our care for others. We also know that Jesus told us that loving our neighbor is just like loving God and just as important. Throughout the entire bible we read about the importance God places on caring for and loving others. This instance was Jesus teaching the disciples that He calls them and us to feed the people and tend to their needs. He will create the resources as long as we are faithful to Him in our service to others. So yes, if you are thinking about Jesus multiplying the fish and bread, then you can say that He fed the 5,000. But the real miracle here is that God the Father wants to use us fallible humans to accomplish His work. He could very easily do it all Himself, but He want us to be a part of it. Maybe it isn’t always sitting down a crowd of people and handing out food. Maybe it is a teaching He wants to pass through you. Maybe it is a house He wants you to repair or people He wants you to serve some other way. The question is: how are you feeding God’s people today?