A few days ago, I read John 6 and was reminded of an important spiritual principle: little becomes much in the master’s hand.
In a day of millions and billions, it seems that everyone is impressed with large numbers. Burger joints boast of the millions who have been served. Churches rejoice in the numbers of people who come and the offerings they give. Schools boast in the amount of scholarship money their students have earned. It seems that we are infatuated with numbers, big numbers.
But sometimes God wants to make a point with something smaller. Sometimes He wants to confound our natural affinity for big by highlighting what He can do with something small, as long as that something small placed by faith in His hands.
I am reminded of this when I read John 6. John 6 is one of those times when Jesus is followed by a large crowd, a crowd enamored “by the signs he was doing on the sick.” Jesus takes his disciples up on a mountain. They lift their eyes and see the large crowd coming. No doubt they are walking with hungry eyes. Some perhaps wanted a miracle. Others simply wanted to see the show.
I must confess that if I was Jesus, I would send them away. It is exhausting, after all, to be in demand.
But Jesus is not like me. Instead of being concerned about his “me time,” he is concerned about their welfare. He asks, “Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?” Love motivates him to be concerned with their practical welfare.
Yet, that was not his only concern. John informs us, “He said this to test them, for he himself knew what he would do.” In other words, this is also a teaching moment designed to strengthen their faith.
Phillip answer the question sensibly. He looks at the crowd, calculates the need, and attaches a cost. “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” A denarii is about one day’s wage. So two hundred days wages would only be enough to give them a snack much less feed them.
Wait just a minute, you might say. You started this railing against large numbers, and now you are focused on them yourself. What gives?
We are given this number not to impress but to express the enormity of the need. What becomes the focus is the seeming scarcity of the available resources to meet the need. With Phillip’s assessment hanging in the air, Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” He is not proposing a solution; rather, he is highlighting the depth of the problem. He continues, “But what is that for so many?”
I certainly get what Andrew is saying. I, too, have looked at a great need and then looked at what seems available and in desperation said, “But what is that for so many?”
Sometimes I need to be reminded, just like the disciples, that what is available is not always what is seen.
So, Jesus has them sit down. The image of a shepherd pervades this scene. The text says, “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.” Then there is a strange comment. “Now there was much grass in that place.” It was a soft place to sit after a day of long travel and strenuous walking. When the adrenaline wears off, they will be exhausted. So, the good shepherd makes them lie down in green pastures so that they may no longer be in want.
Once again we are reminded of the size of the crowd. There are about 5,000 in number. Once again, we are not to be impressed with the size of the crowd but the enormity of the need.
Jesus takes, of all things, the loaves and the fish. Five pitiful loaves and two measly fish lie there in the master’s hand as he blesses them. Then they hand them out, and hand them out, and hand them out. On and on the supply goes until the people “had eaten their fill.” They were hungry no more.
But the supply does not stop. There are leftovers. So Jesus tells his disciples to, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” “So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.”
I would love to have seen their faces. They saw the need. They saw the meager supply. Then the saw what happened when little is placed in the master’s hand. And now they see the surplus, tangible evidence of His power as he takes little and makes much.
As we look at them, we are supposed to learn the same lesson. Little becomes much in the master’s hand.
We need that lesson when we are overwhelmed. We need this lesson when the need is great and our resources are small. In those moments, we need to remember that Christ is able to multiply what is given to him by faith.
So, when we look at our school, we might be tempted to say, “What is this in light of such great need?” What is a small school in light of an opioid epidemic? What is that in light of such great challenges to the family in our day? What is that in light of rapid moral decay? What is that in light of diminishing American academic importance? What is that in light of violence and bullying that plague our land? What is that in light of the cancer of pornography?
Just when our questions overtake us, we need to be reminded: Little is much in the master’s hand. So, this day, on the outset of this school year, we place our few loaves and simple fish in the hand of the Master. And we look with anticipation at what he chooses to do with what we have to give. We do this knowing one thing for sure: “He is able to do exceeding abundantly more that we ask or think.”
Suddenly, we are no longer overwhelmed by the challenges; we are just glad he has invited us along for the ride.