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They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.
Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 14:16

The Feeding the 5,000/Multiplication of the Loaves (Matthew 14: 13-21) highlighting an African perspective

The Africa Bible Commentary notes the contrast between the private party of Herod Antipas earlier in chapter 14 to which only the great and mighty were invited and this outdoor party which is more open and spontaneous. It says the disciples should have known Jesus could have fed the crowd just as Moses did with manna in the wilderness and as Elisha fed 100 with 20 barley loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44).

The Africa Study Bible quotes a Zambian proverb, “Food is never too little to share” and says that Jesus ministered to each specific need he encountered (more on this in the weeks to come).

The Africa Bible notes that barley loaves (mentioned in John) were the food of the poor since wheat bread cost more.

Another African perspective on this story can be gained by viewing the following drawing from Vie de Jesus Mafa, inspired by scenes from Cameroon.


Jesus is the man near the middle wearing a red robe. He is multiplying the loaves and giving it to the disciples who are wearing white robes and distributing bread in baskets to the people sitting down in groups. But there are also other people sharing and distributing food as well as the disciples.

If you look at the lower right-hand corner, you see four children, one carrying a basket and another sharing food to a third. To the left of those children a young woman with another basket is approaching a small child. So, it is drawn as both a supernatural miracle and a natural miracle of sharing food.

As the Africa Study Bible notes, “God can multiply whatever you offer to his service” and even if “we often forget the power we have through Jesus…we have God’s provision to minister in every situation.” Thus, we can freely share whatever little we have, knowing that God is able to re-supply our needs.

Remember the Zambian proverb, “Food is never too little to share.”

Once we were invited to a local church by the pastor, a former student. He told us it was also his son’s birthday, so we brought a small cake which we assumed would be just for his family. After we got there, we discovered it was also the church’s anniversary and somehow our little cake fed over 50 people there as well as the birthday boy.

As we read this story in 2020, we do well to remember how many remain poor in the world and all those who are getting poorer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently there was a sad story from one of the slums in Nairobi about a mother who literally made stone soup for her children so they would have something to eat (she secretly hoped they would fall asleep before it was “ready”). When her neighbors heard about this, they collected money for the family even though they were also struggling themselves.

Oxfam has just estimated in a new report, The Hunger Virus, that 121 million more poor people may be pushed to the brink of starvation this year because of this pandemic and its ripple effects.

Another student of mine just told me that some women in his church are now skipping one meal everyday so they can help those they know who have just been laid off and have no income to buy food with.

This is a time of testing that will reveal our true Christian character. Will we retreat in isolation, telling everyone to fend for themselves as the disciples tried to do by sending the crowds away (v.15)? Or will we rise to the occasion, survey what we have, and give it to Jesus, trusting him to multiply whatever we offer to God’s service?

As Jesus said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

*****

JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48287 [retrieved July 12, 2020]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).

Rowland Van Es

Rowland Van Es, Jr. is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who currently serves as a missionary at St Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya where he and his wife Jane have been teaching since 2004. They previously served in The Gambia and Malawi.

6 Comments

  • Kathy Jo Blaske says:

    Thanks for the sermon illustration for today!

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Good to hear from you Rowland.
    Greetings to your dad and mom, Rowland and Judy, dear classmates and friends.

  • Jon Lunderberg says:

    Thank you for a good message for everyone to hear. Your message is spot from Zambia to Grandville, Michigan where we live. With schools shut down, I am proud that the Grand Rapids YMCA has served over 150,000 meals in the past four months.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    Other people inspire me too. The work of civil society & para-church organizations compliments to work of the church and individuals. It all adds up.

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