The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand occurred after Jesus had been teaching and preaching around the Sea of Galilee. As His ministry grew, so did the crowds following Him. In fact, Scripture indicates that Jesus and the disciples climbed into a boat and sailed a short way from the coast just to get away from the crowds for a time of rest. They disembarked on the shore, looking for some peace and quiet, only to see people running along the coast, following them.
It was late in the day, and this area was remote, meaning that these thousands of people would not be able to get home that night to eat. The question quickly became how to feed everyone.
Jesus saw this situation as an opportunity. Meanwhile, His disciples saw it as an impossible problem. Both faced the same question: “How will we feed these people?” But their responses were vastly different.
I find it fascinating how Jesus spoke to His disciples here. He turned to Philip and asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” I can imagine Philip looking at Him as if Jesus were out of His mind. He might have said, “Really, Jesus? Like there’s a grocery store in nearby Bethsaida? Yeah, so why don’t Andrew and I just run down to the super and pick up some bread and fish for, say, five thousand people. You’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, it’s not even a Costco!”
No, Philip didn’t say that, but he did protest strongly: “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Philip was saying to Jesus, “This is an impossible goal. You don’t know what you’re asking!”
Of course Jesus knew exactly what He was asking. And we’d do well to pay attention.
Jesus was actually pointing Philip and the disciples to how big and hairy and audacious the goal in front of them was. To underscore the audaciousness of the task, He was suggesting that they do it.
“How are you going to feed these people?” He asked. “How are you going to pay for it?” Jesus wanted them to acknowledge the impossible mountain in front of them. “How will you accomplish this?”
I don’t think it was a taunt. Jesus wasn’t egging them on. He was teaching them a lesson. Jesus was stretching the faith of Philip and the other disciples.
To me, the surprise here isn’t that the disciples couldn’t figure out how they could feed everyone. The surprise is they didn’t imagine that Jesus could. You would think one of the more insightful disciples might have gotten it and said to Jesus, “Well, Rabbi, we kind of, uh, well, we were thinking that maybe You could do one of Your miracles here.”
But that didn’t happen. Somehow the disciples failed to expect Jesus to work a miracle here.
In the course of Jesus’s ministry on earth, He performed around three dozen miracles that are recorded. This miracle of feeding the five thousand occurred in the middle of Jesus’s ministry, so the disciples had already witnessed Jesus perform many miracles.
Yet here on this hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, they seemed clueless about what could possibly be done to feed thousands of hungry people. Maybe what they remembered was that Jesus’s previous miracles had been mostly one-on-one encounters—healing a blind man here, casting out some demons there. Nothing on this scale. Perhaps, despite all the miracles the disciples had witnessed, they thought this vast sea of people stretching before them to the horizon was, even for this Miracle Worker, above His pay grade.
As Jesus tested Philip’s faith, neither Philip nor the other disciples suggested that Jesus Himself perform a miracle. It was as if they didn’t remember or understand what He’d done before.
Perhaps the reason they overlooked the Source of miracles who was right in front of them was that they were totally overwhelmed by the problem. Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed, it’s easy to forget about everything else in my life except for the overwhelming problem in front of me.
There’s definitely a spiritual memory loss that occurs when we feel overwhelmed. We forget about all the blessings in our lives, and we focus solely on the burdens. We forget about all the times in the past God came through just when we needed Him most. We forget how big and great God is, and we forget how much He cares about us.
Excerpted from Shaken by Kerry and Chris Shook Copyright © 2016 by Kerry and Chris Shook. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Kerry Shook and his wife, Chris Shook, are the founders of Woodlands Church in The Woodlands, Texas, and the best-selling authors of One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life and Be the Message.