Jesus asked good questions.
On the Sundays in June we will consider some Questions Jesus Asked.
“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. John 6:5–6 (John 6:1-15)
Jesus went with his disciples to the mountainside near the Sea of Galilee. He had been healing the sick, so a crowd was following, hoping to see more signs, maybe hoping for healing for themselves or their family or friends they brought with them to see Jesus. Jesus saw the crowds coming and asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
One of the realities of life is that the need is unlimited. Think of the hungry people in the world. Drought and famine. Refugees. War. Food deserts. Economic injustice. Think of the children who go to your local school each morning, hungry. The families in your community that are consistently undernourished. “Where shall we buy food for these people to eat?”
I learned early in my pastoral career that the need is unlimited. I’ve never gotten to the end of the week and said, “I’ve done everything there was to do.” At best I’ve said, “That’s all I can do this week.” I’ve never gotten to the end of the needs.
Jesus has been healing the sick, and the need remains. The people keep following. The crowds are growing. The need is unlimited. In his compassionate heart, Jesus recognizes sees the need.
So Jesus turns to Philip. “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
He asks Philip because if anyone would know where to find this much food, it’d be him. Philip is from nearby Bethsaida. He knows the area, when and where the markets are. He knows who could bake the bread. If anyone knew where to find food, it was Philip.
Philip is overwhelmed. “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” That is, if he could convince all the bakers in the area to cater the picnic.
Andrew is more practical, though unrealistic. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Neither understands what Jesus is getting at.
Jesus takes the loves and the fish and feeds the crowd. There’s more than enough. Just so the disciples get the message, there are twelve baskets full of leftovers for twelve disciples. One for each.
The answer to Jesus’ question is they can’t buy enough bread. Jesus is the bread. Jesus can meet the need for this crowd to eat. But what they really need is to eat the bread that will satisfy them for eternity, to drink the living waters that will well up within them to eternal life. What they need is Jesus.
Jesus wanted Philip to see that the need is unlimited and they needed to find an unlimited source to provide.
We see the unlimited need all the time and wonder how to meet it. “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” What’s our budget? Can we afford to open a food pantry? How many new members do we need in order to increase giving enough to buy bread? What, we only have five loaves and two fish? Well, we could give them to the food bank. They’ll feed a few people at least. Maybe if we work extra nights and longer hours at the bakery, if we hire a community developer. Then maybe we can feed a few more.
But we miss the point. The need is unlimited, including our needs. The need is unlimited, but the power of Christ is also unlimited. Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread, but “he already had in mind what he was going to do.” He would feed the crowd physically with a boy’s lunch. That would satisfy the physical need. . .for now. What the people really needed wasn’t a fish sandwich. What they needed was the bread of life and the living water. What they needed was Jesus.
When the unlimited need overwhelms, when the calls, emails, and texts keep demanding more, remember Jesus asking, “Where are you going to buy enough bread?” Remember the twelve baskets of leftovers. Know that satisfying the demands is only a temporary solution. What is eternal is coming to Jesus for living water and the bread of life. The need is unlimited, but the power of Christ is, too.
Don’t forget that we need the same thing the crowd needed. We need Jesus, too.