Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lesson of the Loaves {from the Archives}

    The apostles  gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest a while." For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place, but many saw them leaving and recognized them. People ran there by land from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.  So as He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things.
    When it was already late, His disciples approached Him and said, "This place is a wilderness, and it is already late! Send them away, so they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat."
    "You give them something to eat," He responded.
    They said to Him, "Should we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"
    And He asked them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look."
    When they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."
    Then He instructed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke the loaves. He kept giving them to His disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of pieces of bread and fish. Now those who ate the loaves were 5,000 men (Mark 6:30-44, HCSB).



Near the end of the last century, I sat in my first class, 601 Spiritual Life, of my first full-time semester of seminary.  Dr. Bill Lawrence, with abundant energy and clear enthusiasm for his subject and students, was a good way to begin. He told us over and over, "Repetition is the key to learning," and perhaps he was right.  Again today, as I read the account of the feeding of the 5,000, I heard his voice reminding us of what he called "the lesson of the loaves."

The first clause of the lesson describes the problem in the passage: more than 5,000 (if women and children were also present) hungry people in a remote wilderness, late in the day.  What does Jesus say?  He tells the apostles to feed this impossible multitude with five small loaves and two tiny fish.  My pastor at that time compares the quantity of bread and fish of the original Greek to "granola bars and sardines." In other words, Mark isn't talking about 5 loaves of sandwich bread and 2 whole salmon but an even greater degree of impossibility. In Dr. Lawrence's words, "You must do what you cannot do with what you do not have."

How many of us feel that way on an almost daily basis?  Whether the "must do" involves mothering, a difficult job, the lack of a job with financial pressures that will not let up, health problems, or just the ordinary pressures of life, most of us understand this feeling of overwhelming demands and inadequate resources.  I certainly do. In the Scripture passage, though, it is Jesus who places the demand on the apostles, so in that instance, at least the impossibility was His will.

Thanks be to God that the lesson doesn't stop there!

The second clause from Dr. Lawrence provides the solution: "BUT He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus takes His followers' inadequate resources, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples to distribute.  In His hands, they become not only a start, not only enough, but too much.  The great crowd eats until satisfied, and still 12 baskets of leftovers remain. "He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus' resources are adequate for the overwhelming demands of following Him and seeking to serve those He brings us.

This morning I was feeling like those disciples: the list of responsibilities, projects, paperwork, and prayer requests longer than the day ahead and far greater than the strength in hand.  Reading Luke's account of this event in my daily portion reminded me of my teacher's words, and I found courage to bring the needs to Christ and take His strength, one basketful at a time.  It only felt right to pass the basket on to you.


That doesn't mean the needs will feel any less overwhelming or more possible. Feelings may or may not change. If the Lord is the one putting the needs on our plate, however, He will not fail to give grace enough to match them, one crumb at a time, as we keep going back to Him for more.

Dear Crumbles, whatever your overwhelming need today, take heart:

"You must do
what you cannot do 
with what you do not have,
BUT
He will do through you
what He can do
with what He does have."

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11b-13, ESV).

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