By: Ameir Makar
Most of us are familiar with the miracle of the five loaves and the two fish. We’ve all probably heard this passage hundreds of times, especially as it comes up every time we read the gospel in the Ninth Hour of the Book of Hours (Agpeya).
There is one particular verse in this passage, however, that can often be overlooked, and yet has a profound message for anyone serving in their church or community. As the passage goes, the disciples, being worried about the health of the multitude, turn to Christ so that He can dismiss them and have them find food in the nearby villages. Christ, however, turns to his disciples and instead instructs them: “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13).
In retrospect, the disciples’ intentions were in fact good – they wanted to make sure the multitude didn’t faint on the way home – but while they had good intentions for the welfare of the multitude, they had no intention of providing for their needs themselves. Christ, in turn, calls them not only to care for their wellbeing, but also to provide it themselves.
The disciples’ reluctance stemmed from the fact that they were discouraged due to a perceived lack of resources – “we are in a deserted place here” (Luke 9:12). The Gospel of John further mentions that when they find the 5 loaves and two fish, one disciple comments “but what are they among so many?” (John 6:9).
How many times have we found ourselves in the same situation? We want to help others, but we send them away empty-handed without providing for their needs. We get discouraged by our own ability, or lack of it. We complain to God with the disciples: “we are in a deserted place here” – that is, we have no funds, we have no volunteers, we have no experience, we have no time…and even with the little that we have, we likewise cry out “but what are they among so many?”
In response to both of these complaints, Christ nevertheless tells us the same message – “You give them something to eat”. Yes, it was through Christ that the multitude was ultimately filled, though it was mediated by the little resources and the distributive effort of the disciples from the hands of Christ. You may not have much time or resources or experience, but as Christ multiplied the 5 loaves and 2 fish, He is likewise able to expand the little effort that we have to serve others.
God has a way of transforming what is little and weak into what is strong and powerful. He transformed fishermen into scholars and leaders, He transformed a shepherd into a psalmist and king, He transformed sinners into ascetics, and He can likewise transform and multiply our small efforts in fulfilling the needs of those whom we serve.
So, the next time we are asked to deliver a sermon, or plan a retreat, or start a new initiative at church or asked to serve in any capacity in which we feel we are inadequate or ill-prepared, let us be confident in God’s transformative power. Let us disregard the initial advice of the disciples to “send the multitude away”, and instead let us always have Christ’s words echoing in our ears – “You give them something to eat”.