BY SERENA PUANG
This piece is part of syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. You can read the original piece at https://www.yalelogos.com/home/humble-offerings.
On a good day (when everything is going smoothly, I’m not on a strict deadline, and I’ve gotten plenty of sleep), it’s easier to cut other people slack when they’re being less than their best selves. A person I’m meeting with is 40 minutes late? It’s okay, I’ll just get some other work done. The lady was mean to me at the post office? Hope her day gets better. Drunk guy falls asleep on me on the metro Sunday morning? Hey buddy, this is kinda weird, but you’re clearly not doing this on purpose. Be careful getting home, okay?
But on a bad day, when I’m already busy and stressed, these same situations can become the “one more thing” that makes me snap. I blow things out of proportion, I say or do things I’m less than proud of, and I fail to see the bigger picture or extend grace to others.
On a hot day a couple thousand years ago, Jesus was teaching and healing people. According to the Gospel of Mark, “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat,” and Jesus and his disciples were deliberating leaving the crowd for a quiet place to rest (Mark 6:31 NIV).
But then they get there, and there are a ton of people—five thousand men, probably at least as many women, and maybe even more children. Jesus doesn’t get stressed about this. He doesn’t comment on how this is messing with his schedule or complain that he just wanted to rest. Instead, he sits down and continues to teach.
When evening comes, his disciples remind him that they’re in the middle of nowhere and these people have to eat; but instead of following their advice and dismissing the crowd to buy food in the surrounding area, he tells the disciples that they should feed the people.The disciples were having a busy couple of days. They had just followed Jesus through multiple miracles and even went off in pairs to cast out demons on their own. They were instructed not to bring anything but a staff – no bread, no money, no bags – and their break had just been co-opted by the crowd. Now, Jesus has imposed “one more thing.” According to John 6:7, it would take “more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” This is a problem that’s too big for the disciples to solve, and they tell Jesus as much.
But the solution doesn’t come through a disciple’s clever thinking or someone whipping out half a year’s wages to make a large donation. It comes from God working with several individuals who offer up what they have in faith.
I’m particularly compelled by the boy with five loaves and two fish. I wonder what he thought would happen when he gave up his lunch. Surely, he couldn’t have expected that it would feed thousands of people. But Christ multiplied his one small contribution into a feast complete with leftovers. Thousands of years later, this story exemplifies the way God provides and works with people to bless others.
Growing up, Sunday School story time held the boy up as an example of the way that we should give what we have to God, but he remains unnamed and only gets this one sentence:
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? (John 6:8 NIV).
In fact, the boy only appears in John’s account of the miracle. All four gospels include different details about background, the disciples, and the dialogue. They don’t always specify where the fish and the loaves came from, and the disciples aren’t always specified. That’s because the story isn’t about them. It’s about Jesus. Without Jesus, the boy’s sacrifice would have just left him and everyone else with an empty stomach. Without the boy, Jesus could have still made it work. Five loaves and two fish were not a prerequisite to feeding the multitude. He didn’t need anything to make the miracle happen, but he chose to wait and work with this kid whom three out of four gospels don’t even mention. And because of the boy’s willingness, he gets to be a part of something amazing.
God doesn’t need us to do things for Him so that his purposes can be fulfilled. He chooses to do things with us to reveal himself to us and strengthen our faith. But he doesn’t force us to participate. It’s up to us to make decisions like this boy. Or like the disciple Andrew who went to ask what food the people had even though whatever it was certainly wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone. Or the rest of the disciples who went to seat the multitude in groups of fifty (Luke 9:5) before the promise of food even materialized.
What are our five loaves and two fish? What are the seemingly insignificant things which we’ve been entrusted with that we can offer to God today – not in hopes of recognition or rewards? What can we genuinely set down at God’s feet so he can do with them what he will? We never know which specific actions will have lasting effects. But that’s all the more reason to pray for insight and look for ways to take part in the bigger things God is working out behind the scenes.
Even, and perhaps especially, on the bad days.
Serena Puang is a rising junior studying linguistics.