Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. Matthew 15:36 (NIV)
This account of the miraculous feeding of thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish is repeated in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke explain that Jesus himself did not hand out the bread and the fish; he gave them to the disciples to hand out.
As I was recently looking again at this witness the Lord showed me something I had never seen before. I hope I can communicate it for you. But it is so much that it will take two blogs, so I will finish next week. I think Jesus was demonstrating something far more important than the miracle of multiplication that day. Something that the disciples, and we, would only understand much later. He was demonstrating what the Church would be like after he was gone back to the Father.
I think Jesus was training the disciples to be the Church, to be the hands and body of the Lord. They were the Church-in-training. That’s why he had them distribute the food. Jesus also did not himself baptize people, but had the disciples baptize (John 4:2). Jesus did not go with them when he sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7).
So, the disciples were learning how to be Jesus here on earth. They were distributing the physical bread that day but would later hand out the Bread of Life.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51 (NIV)
Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish? In a couple of places Jesus talked about people as fish.
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Matthew 13:47 (NIV)
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)
The disciples were also fishers-of-men-in-training. But they weren’t just learning to fish for men that day as they were handing out the fish, they were also learning to hand out themselves. They were fish that had been caught in the Savior’s loving net whose lives in turn would be broken and given in self-denying service.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:24-26 (NIV)
Just as Jesus was broken and given for the life of the world, so we are to be broken – die to self, be crucified with Christ – so we can give ourselves. We are to be the hands and the body of the Lord here on earth handing out His love. And, because he is in us, we also become the bread and the fish that is given. J.D. Walt has written, “Because Jesus is good news and Jesus is in me, I am good news.” [i]
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14). Jesus blesses us and graces us and strengthens us, but he also breaks us as he broke the bread and the fish that day. Like Gideon’s torches in jars, the light that is in us cannot be seen unless the jars are broken (Judges 7:15-21). And as Gideon’s jars were empty save for the light, we must empty ourselves of all self-seeking, self-righteousness, self-sins.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)
And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence. Ephesians 1:23 (NLT)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 (NIV)
Image, by Mira66 https://www.flickr.com/photos/21804434@N02/4739074036/
“Loaves and Fishes is set into the wall of the Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, North Road, Brighton, Sussex.”
[i] J.D. Walt, “The Sower’s Creed,” in This is How We Know, p. 132.