As we prepare for Thanksgiving here are seven lessons from a holiday feast that Jesus hosted, the feeding of the 5,000, notably the only miracle reported in all four gospel accounts. (If you are not familiar with the story you can read it here first.)
1. Serve rather than be served.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (John 6:5-6)
This impromptu “FriendsGiving” happened in a beautiful, if humble, seaside setting with the lavish Passover Festival as a backdrop. Jesus intentionally skipped out on the stress and hostility he knew awaited him at the more formal gathering, from those who should have been his strongest supporters, the religious leaders and scholars.
Instead, He opted to be of service to others, embracing the physical and spiritual needs of people who had sacrificed their time and comfort to follow Him. They were mostly illiterate and thus unable to study the scriptures for themselves, but they listened to what their hearts told them about the significance of the man and His message.
Who around your table or in your community will you introduce to the man and His message this season?
2. Give freely.
The crowd had followed Jesus to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, hungry for more miracles and more teaching, but also growing hungry physically after the long walk around the shoreline. Jesus challenges the apostles to pull together a meal, and Andrew offers the best solution he can find:
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” he asks Jesus.
It’s easy to picture the child, standing before Andrew with his meager fare, confused and intimidated by the sudden interest in him and his lunch.
We don’t know what the boy thought; we only know what he did: He gave all that he had freely, and then stepped back and trusted Jesus.
Perhaps it is such pureness of heart that Jesus had in mind later when He called a little child to Himself saying: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)
3. Be mindful of your food’s source.
The boy gave all he had freely back to the Lord, allowing Him to multiply it many times over.
How willing are we to entrust “our” earnings, or even our full tithes, to the Lord? As we consider our answer this holiday, remember that we will never outgive God.
“Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.”
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.’
4. Waste not.
Abundance, however, does not justify wastefulness. If we accept that these good gifts are from God, then we should handle them accordingly.
“When they had all had enough to eat, He said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’” (John 6: 12)
Before preparing the meal Jesus instructs the apostles, “Have the people sit down.” Only John takes time to note this interesting detail, “There was plenty of grass in that place.” It brings to mind the green pastures of Psalm 23, in which Jesus, the good Shepherd, “makes his sheep lie down,” bringing peace and calm before attempting to lead them forward:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
Mark’s account reads, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:34)
This time of year especially it is essential to preserve our “green-grass time,” to stay connected to God and experience the peace that allows Him to speak to our hearts.
6. Give thanks.
In this meal Jesus follows a routine we see again at the Last Supper, as well as in his post-resurrection meals: First, He breaks the bread, next He gives thanks, and then He distributes it.
In our own spiritual and physical hunger, if we are consistent before each meal — whether a spiritual meal of prayer and time in the Word, or a physical one of food — to thank God for His blessings, we are far more likely to find satisfaction and experience abundance.
7. Follow the bread crumbs.
God made us human…and so He made us hungry.
Beginning in the Exodus, God instituted the passover meal, then He sustained the Israelites through the “daily bread” of manna, and in John He miraculously fed the 5,000. All of these foreshadow His ultimate provision of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, the source of our eternal lives.
Throughout the Gospels we find Jesus at the table a lot. He seems to recognize that this is where life happens for us. As we nourish our bodies, we also nourish one another’s hearts and minds through the time and conversations shared. Here too Jesus is faithful to meet our physical needs as a metaphor for Himself — the one true, vital source of our spiritual sustenance.
As we gather around our family tables this week, let us remember that Jesus’ holiday celebration also was crowded with grumbling, demanding people who seemed more concerned about whether they would get enough to eat than the person with whom they were sharing the meal.
Instead of approaching the table as part of the maddening crowd, let us instead step forward as this young boy did, generously offering all that we have and trusting Jesus to do good with it.