Yes it probably was about 10,000! The 5000 didn’t include women and children.
I worked out that dividing loaves between all that crowd would have provided each person with the equivalent of about one hundredth of a modern slice of bread. Yet they were all satisfied and 12 baskets full of scraps were gathered up. To me this brings home the amazing nature of this miracle.
But the problem with familiar stories is that they wash over the brain without making much impact. The first thing I saw in this reading was:
Jesus made time for prayer
Matthew writes: “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (verse 13). What had happened was that John the Baptist had been executed and Jesus was naturally deeply upset about it. He needed to get away alone with his Father. How we need to do the same. Prayer is such a comfort because it reminds us of the presence of God, of his love and of his healing power. It also gives us a wider sense of perspective on the situation.
But we shouldn’t only pray when things are difficult. Jesus often went off to be alone with his Father, sometimes overnight. If he needed to do that, how much more do we.
Why should we pray – because we or others need help, or because it is a religious duty?
No, the most important reason why we should pray is to maintain and develop our relationship with God. The main purpose of prayer is to get closer to God, to get to know him better, to take notice of him, to show our love to him and to show we need him: we can’t succeed on our own.
Do you make time to pray?
We may never have time to pray – we have to make time. Secondly,
Jesus was compassionate about others
“Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (verses 13-14).
Think about it and relate it to your own circumstances. Jesus just wanted to be alone – to grieve and to pray. He needed peace and quiet. And the crowd turned up again! Have you ever had such an experience? It could be frustrating and even irritating.
However Jesus didn’t say: “Sorry, I need some peace and quiet” or “Sorry we’re closed until tomorrow.” Rather he immediately had compassion on them and healed their sick.
This is the wonderful thing – Jesus is always available. He’s never too busy to respond. He’s never out. He’s always there.
Jesus multiplies our good deeds
Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish and gives some 10,000 people a good, filling picnic, with plenty of food left over for later. “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (verse 20). That is a wonderful picture of what Jesus does with us.
He takes our little prayers and multiples their effect. God does act in response to prayer. We might sometimes ask: “Why doesn’t the government do something about this?” or “Why doesn’t the United Nations do something about that?”
But our prayers can release the greatest power imaginable, far more than governments and world leaders.
Jesus takes our little words and multiplies their effect. A short comment from us can, in God’s hand, be life-transforming for someone else. I remember one such incident. I was about to enter my final year at college and wondered what God wanted me to do with my life. I had thought it would be overseas missionary work, perhaps teaching. But God had made it clear that wasn’t right.
One afternoon my future father in law said to me out of the blue: “Have you ever considered going into the Church of England ministry?” I certainly hadn’t because I wasn’t a member of the Church of England! But those words had a profound effect on me. I realised it was God speaking to me. And now look where I am!
Jesus takes our little deeds and multiples their effect. A little act of kindness can have a profound effect on another person’s life. People normally need to take a number of steps towards Jesus before they commit themselves to him in faith. And your little act of kindness, as a Christian, can move them a step closer, maybe even the final step.
So I often pray that God will do that with my prayers, words and deeds. Why don’t you?
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction