Justin Baker, MDiv 2020, Houston, TX
Jesus feeds the crowd, numbering 5,000 men and who knows how many women and children, from just five loaves and two fish. The crowd recognized the magnitude of this sign and what it signified about the man Jesus: he was “the Prophet.” So much so, John tells us, that Jesus was aware they were on the cusp of forcibly crowning him king—so Jesus withdrew from them to be alone on the mountain.
Both the miracle of the feeding and the recognition of Jesus as Prophet are remarkable.
Jesus was keenly aware that the massive crowd of people was hungry, so he asks, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Philip’s response is essentially, “We don’t even have the money to give everyone a little bit of food.” Andrew chimes in that a boy, “has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” That is exactly the question Jesus anticipated because this was the question he planned to answer. “Sit down,” he says, “and let me show you.”
My typical, human response in reading this story is, “You dumb disciples, how can you still not get it?” But, what I think I’ve realized is that if I actually was a disciple, I probably would have stopped following at that point.
The disciples have neither the food nor the money to address the hunger that the crowd has. They have no solution. And yet—and this is where we see their faith—they have the crowd sit down nonetheless. The human, rational response would be to call the whole thing a sham and leave. Attempting to feed a crowd with food enough only for a small family? That’s criminal. So even though the disciples give the “wrong” answers to Jesus’ question, they stick around and continue to follow Jesus. What Jesus did next was a brand new thing, certainly echoing manna in the wilderness and the flour of the widow of Zarephath, but brand new nonetheless. The faith of the disciples here was simply the faith to continue following their Lord.
Jesus was not yet looking for his disciples to say, “Lord, you can feed them.” I think he’s looking for exactly what he found: for them to simply stick by his side. For in the doing of this sign he is revealed, “This is indeed the prophet who is come into the world!”
The crowd understood at that moment that Jesus was the Prophet who had been foretold. Their impulse was, rightly, to crown him king.
But Jesus is not merely king of the earth, and his kingdom is not dependent on his anointing from people. So though the crowd is right to recognize him as king, he was not just their king—that is, Jesus is not king in the way that they desired for him or in the way that we desire for him to rule. He is King of the whole world, of the cosmos, of the heavens—and his authority and anointing have been established before time itself came to be. Jesus could not remain with the crowd and become that type of king. That would be far too small a kingdom for our Lord.
Jesus retreats from that temptation of “easy kingdom living” to be in communion with His Father, together on the mountain. We should pause here to note that “mountain” has immense significance: it was the place God met humankind to give the 10 Commandments, and it signified God’s holy presence. The mountain is rightly within the realm of Jesus’ kingdom. Those laws which our Lord gave to Moses are the same laws that he kept to perfection.
Jesus’ very nature is to be gracious and merciful. The King we serve does not ask us to get everything right—he did that already—he beckons us, as he once did his disciples, to follow him.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 NALS Newsletter.