hanksgiving is all about family, food, and fellowship. Flavorful, appetizing feasts beckon to us this holiday season. For those who have resources, it’s the best of times; for others who don’t, it’s the worst of times. In view of our national high unemployment and low economic forecasts, this Thanksgiving people need more than bread; they need the Bread of Life.
Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6 contain the familiar story about the feeding of 5,000 men, besides a projected 15,000 women and children. So important is this story that it’s recorded in all four Gospels, where each provides important images.
Across the pages of Matthew’s Gospel are the homeless, restless, and nameless crowds desperately searching for things that are both material and everlasting, as in our contemporary global communities. In Matthew’s version of this story we encounter the famished in need of bread, the distracted disciples who had forgotten to bring provisions for a long journey through the desert, and the all-sufficient Savior who had provisions for all their needs.
Jesus had compassion for the people whom Mark described as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). The disciples, on the other hand, saw them as a nuisance and suggested they be sent away to forage for themselves. Sending them away may not have been such a bad idea, because everyone deserves, by honorable effort and labor, to earn bread for themselves and their dependents. The grim reality then, as it is today, was the existence of a great army of unemployed, desperately hungry, and destitute people. The moral and spiritual effects of their situation are devastating. A damaged self-esteem is disastrous to the soul, because God-given powers that should be unleashed in service are shut up in the prison of doubt, depression, and despair.
Former U.S. president Woodrow Wilson once said, “Witness the fact that in the Lord’s Prayer the first petition is for daily bread. No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach.” Bread is one of the fundamental needs of humanity, an essential ingredient for physical, spiritual, and emotional growth. Jesus our Savior said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35). He is the completely satisfying bread of physical and eternal life.
It’s sad that, like the disciples, many today also say to Jesus, “Send the crowds away to the villages to buy food for themselves.” The reason seems to be a strange, inexplicable estrangement between bread-makers and Christians, who have separated life into the secular and the sacred. When the great multitude in this vast desert called “the world” comes starving for material nourishment (also an indication of their spiritual deprivation), they are sent away to the villages or secular places to find it.
But as Christ’s anointed community with a prophetic mission, we are commanded: “You give them something to eat!” We can, and we should. Notice:
First, Jesus made the people sit on “green grass,” according to Mark, who used a poetic device to confirm that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah who would make the desert blossom as a rose, the Great Shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23).
Second, Jesus blessed the bread. He eulogized or spoke well of what John described as “barley loaves.” The ancient historian Philo wrote that barley was fit only for inferior animals and people in unhappy circumstances. Jewish scribes recorded that it was fodder for the lowest animals.
Third, Jesus multiplied the bread and fish and fed more than 20,000 hungry people, who would have had enough to tuck some away for the trip home. Little became much when placed in the Master’s hands.
Finally, Jesus filled 12 baskets by commanding His disciples to pick up every leftover piece. Likewise, He is ready to make sure that no one who believes and obeys His Word will leave His presence empty this Thanksgiving. He’ll give us more than enough to give others something to eat.
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. This article was published November 17, 2011.