10 On their return the apostles told Jesus* all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. 11When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
12 The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ 13But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ 14For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ 15They did so and made them all sit down. 16And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
The 12 disciples – Luke refers to them now as apostles – have returned from their mission, excited but exhausted. Jesus took them aside for a time of rest – Luke says they went to a place called Bethsaida. We visited Tel Beit Tsaida in Israel; it is north of the Sea of Galilee, near what we know today as the “Golan Heights”. Much of Jesus’ ministry during those three years he preached and taught took place within a rough triangle between Capernaum, Corazim, and Bethsaida. There are only ruins in these three places now. But then, there was a village there, in the hills, and Jesus took the disciples there for some rest. We all need times of rest, before we can continue our ministry effectively.
But the crowds heard that Jesus was there, and they came. And Jesus welcomed them, and taught them and healed them. But as the day was getting late the disciples came to him, telling him to send the people away, so that they could find places to lodge and food in the villages scattered in the hills. There was their first mistake – tired already, and in need of private time with Jesus, they wanted to just send the people away – and they told Jesus what to do, rather than watching, learning from what he did, and listening to what he planned. We all make our own plans sometimes, rather than listening to Jesus!
Of course, we know, Jesus did not buy into their plan – he had his own. He said, “You give them something to eat.” They replied that all they had was about 5 loaves and 2 fishes, and they certainly could not go buy food for all those people. Jesus has calmed the storm, healed the sick, and raised the dead, but it never occurs to them that he can provide food for the crowd of about 5,000 men (only men were counted; there would have been women and children as well). Jesus tells them to have the people sit down in groups of about fifty, and they did this. Then Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish – and he “looked up to heaven”, he looked to God the Father to work this miracle, and he blessed and broke the bread and the fish and gave them to the disciples to pass around to the crowd. And all ate and were filled.
We, who always have enough to eat, miss the significance of that last sentence, “all ate and were filled.” It was unusual for people in that area to ever have enough to eat, enough to feel full. Much of their meager subsistence went to the occupying Roman army, or was shipped to Rome for sale. But with Jesus, there is enough.
There was not just enough; there were left-overs. The disciples picked up twelve baskets of broken pieces. Jesus provides what is needed, in abundance, if we only trust him. The disciples had just enough to feed their own little group. They had to give up what was a meal or two for them, trusting in Jesus, to feed the crowd. Sometimes, we have to step out on faith; give up something of our own, something of ourselves, in order to feed the crowd.
photos are Tel Beit Tsaida today