One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. But what difference will these make among so many?”
“Have the people sit down,” Jesus said. Now there was plenty of grass in that place, so the men sat down, about five thousand of them.
Then Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. (John 6:8-11)
Did you ever wonder why Jesus had the 5,000 men sit down? Surely it made it easier for the disciples to hand out the bread and fish. But I love thinking about what it would have felt like to be one of those people following Jesus that day. They were foot-weary, and so famished that it was hard to ignore the gnawing in their bellies. Yet they were totally excited about Jesus. They’d seen him do miracles. His words fed their spiritual hunger. He made them feel hope, something they hadn’t experienced in a long time.
They probably would have been glad to do something to help produce the bread. If there were resources, and Jesus had said, “Some of you go pick the wheat, and some of you grind the grain, and some make it into loaves, and some can make a fire and cook it,” they would have gotten right to work. Or, in their current situation, they would have been happy to help hand out the bread.
But Jesus told them to sit down. He was like, “Be still. Let me do the miracle. Let me take care of you.” He didn’t even tell them what he was going to do. He just got them in a quiet position.
This is a good thing for me to think about, because I would have been looking around for ways to help fix the situation. Even just a few moments ago, I caught myself trying to micromanage, seeing what might be needed here, making a suggestion there. “But I want to help God move his plan along,” I tell myself.
And, of course, God needs me to be active for him. But sometimes, he wants me to be still.
So, when Jesus said, “Have them sit down,” I think he was saying, “You’ve been walking everywhere, following me to this remote place. You’ve been listening all day to my teaching. Now it’s time to stop.”
You know, if the men had been standing up, they would have been pressing close to the disciples, trying to be first in line, worrying that the bread might run out. In sitting down, they had to wait and trust.
Stop. Wait. Trust. Doesn’t that speak to all of us?
The account of the feeding of the 5,000 is one of the few stories that’s in all four gospels. It’s widely known. One thing that makes it so compelling is the way the seekers are described. We see men with a deep hunger in their souls, making a reckless decision to run after someone into the wilderness. There’s a sense of desperation, like all their lives they’ve chased after one thing or another, and they’ve finally found what they’re looking for.
And Jesus has compassion on them and says, “You don’t have to run anymore. Stop. Sit down. I’ll feed you.” The scope of what Jesus provides is so huge. The contrast is so dramatic. They go from desperation, to more than enough.
And we can relate to what those people must have been thinking as they sat on the ground, resting their aching feet, and watched the bread and fish being passed. They took a portion, ate it and felt some better. But then more was circulated, and they had another helping. Now they were feeling good. But the food kept coming. So they allowed themselves the luxury of having as much as they wanted. Ah, their bellies were tight. They were stuffed. What loveliness. It was like being at a king’s table, a feast!
This past Thanksgiving was a first for me. Usually I cook and entertain. This year, my son and daughter in law had us over to their house, and they did all of the cooking. I kept asking my son, “What can I bring?” And he’d say, “You don’t have to bring anything, Mom.” He finally let me bring a pie.
It felt like my son was communicating that I’d served him and the family all their lives, and now he wanted to serve me. It felt like an expression of his love.
I think that was part of what was going on when Jesus was feeding the 5,000. It wasn’t just an effort to meet their needs. It was an expression of love. If heaven will be like a banquet (Rev. 19:9), then this was a foretaste. Surely Jesus’s heart swelled when he looked around and saw all of those who were following him. I think he said to himself, just as he said in Luke 8:21, “These are my brothers, this is my family.”
No wonder he wanted them to sit down and enjoy a feast. That’s what you do with those you love.
How can today’s red letter verse inspire us? Let’s be like the 5,000 men, and expend ourselves greatly to follow Jesus. But then, let’s sit down, and let him take care of us, and do what we can’t.
Here’s one final thought. It’s in the sitting down that we are able to be present with God. When I stop for a minute, and connect to God, I picture him like the father in the story of the prodigal son, wrapping his arms around me, so delighted to meet me.
Now I have an image to add to this — Jesus being ready to feed me. I’ve been listening to BEMA podcasts on the Old Testament, and one thing I’ve learned is how the Old Testament characters displayed an extravagant generosity, reflecting middle eastern standards of hospitality. When the angels come to Abraham’s tent, he ran to prepare a huge meal for them, slaughtering a young calf and having Sarah make an estimated 30+ loaves of bread. (Gen. 18) When Rebekkah offered to draw water for Abraham’s servant’s camels, she ran back to the well as many as 100 times. (Camels are thirsty!) (Gen. 24)
This is the heritage of extravagant generosity that Jesus lived out with the loaves and the fishes. He was so eager to give abundantly then. He still is.
There’s beauty in sitting down. It allows us to be still, look to Christ, experience his love and heart for us, and learn to trust.
It allows us to be filled, inside and out.
Give us today our daily bread. (Matt 6:11)
He makes me lie down in green pastures. (Ps 23:2a)