It seems like there is never enough to go around; money is tight, time is stretched, and just when I think I have nothing left to give, a situation arises where I have to come up with more. So I look into my cache of resources and come up scratching my head, sighing when that all-too-familiar feeling of inadequacy starts to form in the pit of my stomach. But what if the problem isn’t me and my lack, my imperfection, my sheer limited humanity… what if the problem is that I’m looking in the wrong place for the things I need?
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him,
“Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:5-14(
It was a problem. Thousands of people had trekked to a remote place to hear Jesus, it was late, and they needed to eat. According to Matthew’s recounting of this event, the disciples suggested a very logical and reasonable solution:
“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” (Matt 14:15)
Now, Jesus had a better, completely illogical solution in mind. Illogical, that is, if you haven’t yet understood the power of God. But He didn’t come forth with it right away. Instead, He asked a question designed to get the disciples thinking:
“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5)
This was a preposterous question, of course, because even if there had been a baker out in the middle of nowhere with enough bread for over 5000 people, they didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay for it. In fact, Philip pointed out that eight months wages wouldn’t buy enough for each person to have just one bite.
Jesus knew this, of course. He was simply nudging them in the right direction, trying to get the wheels turning in their minds to see if anyone would think outside the box. He wanted to see if they would look past the logical and reasonable and remember who was speaking to them. He wanted to see if they would remember the times in the past when the logical and reasonable were suspended for the miraculous; when the sick were healed, demons were cast out, the dead were raised. When the storm was calmed. You can almost hear the gears shifting in their heads.
Finally, Andrew came forward with a ridiculous statement. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish…” This must have taken some fortitude on his part, because Philip had just described the magnitude of the problem quite vividly. But Andrew trusted Jesus, and like a student in a classroom who is the first to see where the instructor is heading, he stepped out and tested the waters to see if he was understanding correctly. And like a student in a classroom, he wasn’t confident enough to leave it with the statement, but turned it into a question. Just in case he was wrong. “…but how far will they go among so many?”
Still, he had the right idea. He stopped focusing on what they didn’t have and offered up what they did have, meager as it was. And that was all it took — Jesus did the rest and multiplied it so that it would meet the need.
When I am in an impossible situation, I usually focus on the problem, the lack or the need. What if I were to change my view, think outside of the logical and reasonable and focus on what I have, no matter how insufficient it seems? What if I were to take that $12 in the face of a bill for $900, that ability to do one part of a project in the face of an overwhelming amount of work, that love for my children in the face of a string of days of hurt, disappointment and feeling inadequate, that tiny, sputtering, remaining flame of love in a difficult relationship, what if I were to take those small things, give thanks for them and then, instead of trying myself to make them stretch, what if I were to turn those things over to God and ask Him to multiply them?
Well, then all I would need would be some baskets to pick up the leftovers when He was done!