Jesus and his disciples climbed up the side of a steep hill. A little out of breath, they sat down on some rocks. A huge crowd of people had followed them to this remote place; some of the people were looking for healing, some for entertainment, and a few just wanted to see what Jesus would say next.
John 6:1-13 in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people, but there’s so much more…
Can you see it? Can you put yourself there among the disciples? I like to think that Jesus scans the crowd, gets a sneaky grin on His face, then maybe He catches John’s eye and winks. Turning to Phillip, he says, “Hey, Phillip! You’re from around here, where can we get food for all these people?” Phillip looks out over the crowd and sighs. He furrows his brow; his words are clipped, impatient: “It would take six months’ pay to give all these people even one bite each!” While Phillip looks around for Judas, the money keeper, for confirmation, Jesus glances back at John with an I-told-you-so glint in His eye.
These are about to become the
most famous leftovers in history!
But that whole exchange had one purpose: to set up what comes next. Andrew has also taken Jesus’ question seriously and thinks he’s found something. There’s a boy, probably ten or eleven years old, whose mama packed him some lunch. It’s just some leftovers, something to tide him over until dinnertime, but they are about to become the most famous leftovers in history!
Let’s give this boy some backstory. No school that day. The morning chores are done. Some prophet named Jesus is in town. If he hangs out near Jesus, maybe he’ll see a miracle or an arrest or something else interesting to talk about at school tomorrow. Mom says he can go; she even throws some food in a bag in case he gets hungry. He slings a “Thanks!” over his shoulder before the door slams behind him.
Being shorter than most of the adults in the crowd near Jesus, he inches his way to the front and finds a spot off to the side, where he has a good view of the hill and the crowd. While he’s waiting for something to happen—anything, really—one of Jesus’ permanent followers spots him and steps back down the hill. I like to think that Andrew was kind to the boy and that he invited him up onto the hill instead of forcing him. Andrew isn’t sure such a meager offering will help, but at least it’s something. (Or maybe Andrew knows Jesus can make something out of virtually nothing. After all, he still remembers that fantastic wine at a wedding the year before.)
Jesus takes away this child’s food.
It seems wrong.
Andrew throws out a vague question, “How far will such a small amount of food go when so many need to eat?” (I’m paraphrasing.) Jesus doesn’t answer. Instead, he tells the disciples to instruct everyone in the crowd to sit down. The boy remains standing there beside Jesus. While the disciples are busy getting situated (and probably fielding questions such as, “Why?”), Jesus looks at the boy and does something strange. If we didn’t know the story, we might even think Him cruel. He takes away this child’s food.
I have a ten-year-old boy. He doesn’t share his food willingly. It makes me think that maybe this little guy hesitated as well. If he lets go of his bag, he will (based on previous experience) go hungry that day, and his mama will probably fuss at him. He doesn’t want to go hungry, and he doesn’t want to get in trouble. But there’s something about Jesus that’s different from every other adult he’s ever met. For some reason, the boy knows he can trust Jesus, so he lets go. He lets Jesus take the whole bag. He doesn’t reach in, grab just one roll, and stuff it in his pocket just in case. Sure, it’s basically five crackers and two sardines—not much by anyone’s standards, but the boy gives it all. As he looks up at Jesus’ face in that moment, I think he sees the delight in Jesus’ eyes and the smile of anticipation playing at the corners of Jesus’ lips.
The little boy bounds back down the hill and finds a place to sit with some other kids his age. When they start passing around the fish and bread, he feasts until he can eat no more. The leftovers he carried that morning would have staved off hunger, but they never would have filled him like this!
Do you see it? The boy had to let go of the meager portion he’d been given in order to receive the greater portion Jesus offered to all. What was barely sufficient for him became sustenance for many. Oh friends! We try to hold onto the individual rations meted out to every person when He wants us to let go so He can convert them into plenty. But we have to give them to Jesus first. This is not logical; it’s uncommon sense. There has to be a moment when we have nothing, when we’re not only empty-handed but bare…maybe even desperate. For a few minutes there, the boy had no food at all. Then Jesus begins to bless what we’ve released, and we receive back far more than we surrendered—not only us, but everyone around us receives from what we thought was barely enough for us alone.
Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. –Matthew 16:25
For further consideration: In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), those who saw a return on their investment first had to let go of their money. It was out of their hands for some amount of time.
Read another Biblical story of a humble person who gave everything: Muffled but Magnified.