As a minister, I can find myself wondering if I’m doing enough. Am I offering enough support to my team? Is the ministry I lead facilitating enough opportunity for students to encounter Christ? Am I praying enough for my students? On top of these concerns that I grapple with on any given day, there exist now the overshadowing concerns about physical health, national well-being, and racial justice. For many others, I’m sure the list might extend beyond even that.
Because of all these swirling worries, it was good to find comfort in the book of Matthew. It occurred to me in re-reading the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand that Matthew wasn’t only remarking on the ability of Jesus Christ. He was also highlighting how the disciples’ little to offer was made enough by Jesus’ hand.
In Matthew 14, the feeding of the five thousand is flanked by a recounting of the death (murder, really) of John the Baptist and Jesus walking on the water. To note, John the Baptist was not merely a fellow Christ follower. John and Andrew, two of Jesus’ disciples followed John before they followed Jesus, and John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. Could you imagine the pain and hopelessness that followed the death of an old mentor and beloved family member? Jesus and his disciples did not just know of John the Baptist but knew him, loved him, and walked with him for a period of their lives. It’s with this dark cloud and context of grief that we approach this miracle.
The disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food at the end of a long day. But in doing so, they weren’t simply being compassionless or lazy. It wasn’t that Jesus loved the crowd and the disciples were selfish towards then. It wasn’t just a disbelief or uncertainty that Jesus could do incredible work. They were exhausted, afraid, and grieving. In their minds, they had neither food to offer nor emotional bandwidth to spare. They were, in every measure, absolutely spent. But what’s remarkable is that Jesus could have easily sent them off to the boat ahead of them and said he’d take care of it. We know that Jesus could have. Instead, he allowed the disciples to participate in this miracle to see that their little would be enough.
Jesus asked them for what little resources they had or could find. Realistically, the two fish and five loaves wouldn’t have been enough to feed even the disciples, let alone the crowds. But in asking them to stay, participate, and make use of the little they pulled together, an amount they thought would be useless, Jesus multiplies what little they have to offer and makes it plentiful. At the end of the story, after comfortably feeding five thousand men and an uncounted number of women and children, there are twelve baskets of food left—one for each disciple. Through the disciples giving their little in obedience and trust, Jesus effectively produces a full basket from each disciple. So while this miracle was done to feed the crowd, I believe it was for the disciples too. After Jesus’ crucifixion, these would be the men who would live by the truth that their insufficiency amidst their exhaustion, fear, and oppression was enough through Jesus Christ. This was just a taste.
The story doesn’t stop there, though. After everyone was fed, Jesus then let the disciples retreat into the boat—in fact, scripture says, “immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side.” Jesus didn’t demand superhuman stamina from the disciples. After demonstrating to them that their little could be madeenough, he immediately let them go to grieve. He let them rest.
The conclusion I draw from this recounting is, first, that what little we have to give, while insufficient in itself, can be multiplied into plenty by the hands of Jesus Christ. Ministers who have so few answers are made wise enough in Christ. Mothers who feel overwhelmed are made strong enough in Christ. Givers who wrestle with a scarcity mentality are made generous enough in Christ. Teachers who are unprepared and undersupported are made resilient enough in Christ. Women who are pulled in many directions at once are made powerful enough in Christ. So even with our absolutely true knowledge that we are not enough, we can be generous with what we are. We can do this because Jesus can do so much with our little. Second, Jesus gives us rest. In fact, he instructs us to rest. He knows our humanness, both the beauty and brokenness of it. He knows us. So after loving us enough to do beautiful things with our little, he loves us enough to grant us rest.