HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.–Matthew 14:19
The Only Miracle Recorded in All Four Gospels
This is the only miracle recorded in each of the four Gospels, and we must take that as a token of the profound impression which it made. To us, the raising of Lazarus is more astounding than this mountain feast; but had we lived in Galilee and heard the common talk, we should have perhaps found that this miracle was graven deepest on men’s hearts. Most of the other miracles had been seen by few. There was no crowd near when the Nain widow got her son again. When Lazarus awoke, there were only the village neighbours present. But here five thousand lips had eaten, and five thousand lips would talk, until in every farmhouse and cottage, this miracle would be a household word. That deep impression is registered in the fourfold narrative.
Only a word is needed to describe the miracle. Partly to avoid the dangerous neighbourhood of Herod, and still more, to refresh His overstrained disciples–for there is nothing like a day with Christ among the hills for making a worried heart itself again–Jesus and His disciples cross the lake, and steer for the quiet hills by the north shore. Alas! there was to be little rest that day. The folk had seen them launching. They hurry round by the north end of the lake, meeting and mingling with the pilgrim-companies making for Jerusalem to keep the Passover. And as the prow of the boat grates on the beach, and Jesus and His disciples step ashore, God’s great cathedral of the mountainside, whose roof is heaven and whose organ music is the sea, is thronged with a vast and eager congregation. Then Jesus heals and teaches, and in the evening feeds them. Which done, the stars come out, and the crowds are scattered, and the disciples are rowing homeward to Capernaum, and Jesus is on the mountainside in prayer.
Note first that this miracle had its roots in Christ’s compassion. When He stepped ashore and saw much people, we read that He was moved with compassion towards them. And all the healing, and teaching, and feeding of that memorable day sprang from that pity in the heart of Christ. And that is the glory of divine compassion it is the source and spring of noble deeds. Often we pity where we cannot help. But the compassion of Jesus sprang into action always. It set Him healing, teaching, feeding hungry men, and it still draws Him to the same service. Is Christ my compassionate High Priest today? Then He will help me in my struggle to be true. He will lift me up when I have failed and fallen. He will feed me when my soul is starving.
One Food for All
Mark, too, there was but one food for all these thousands. The rich were there, journeying to Jerusalem, and the poorest of the poor were there, from the rude huts by the lakeside. Yonder was the quick merchants from the cities, here lolled the farmhands from the fields. There was a mother crooning to her babe, and here were the children romping on the green. Old men were there with the first glow of heaven about them, and young men with the first glow of earth. Yet Jesus fed them all with the same bread. The strange thing is that no one scorned the victual. All ate, and all were filled. No swift relays of courses had ever been so sweet as the single dish with Jesus on the hill.
Now the wonderful thing about Christ–the living Bread–is that He satisfies us all. What a great gulf between the Jew of Tarsus and the ignorant fishers of Bethsaida! What a world between the gentle Lydia and the rude jailer at Philippi! Yet the power of Christ that made a man of Peter was no less mighty in the heart of Paul; and the love of God that won the love of Lydia conquered the jailor too. In all love, says a thinker, there is something levelling; and the love of God is the great leveller of the ages. It knows no social barriers. It is not powerless where temperaments differ. It comes to all, this one glorious Gospel of the grace of God, and all may feed and be satisfied.
Jesus Uses Gifts Men Bring Him
Again note, that in satisfying the needs of men Christ uses the gifts which men bring Him. Had Jesus so willed, He could have made bread out of the stones. In times past, God had called water from the rock and brought manna from the windows of heaven, and I do not know why God in Christ might not have summoned these hidden stores again. But Jesus’ miracles were acted parables, not wrought to amaze but to instruct. And so He takes what the disciples give Him, and uses that to feed the crowd. It is often Christ’s way to help the world through men. It is His plan to bring the Kingdom in through us. And if we take our gifts, however poor and humble, and lay them freely at the feet of Jesus, He will so bless and multiply and use them that we shall be amazed, and recognise His hand.
The Bread Increased in the Breaking of It
I see, too, that it was in the breaking that the bread increased. A wonder-worker would have touched the loaves and made them swell and multiply before the crowd. But Jesus blessed, and brake, and gave to the disciples, and as they brake the bread, it increased. It was through the blessing that the miracle was wrought, and through the breaking that it was realised. And ever, through the breaking, comes the increase, and in the using of our gifts, with God’s blessing, are our gifts enlarged.
- Trade with your talent bravely, and it shall be five.
- Power springs from power, and service out of service.
Never try to do good, and you will find no good to do. Do all the little good you can, and every day will bring a fresh capacity and a new opportunity until you find that “there is that scattereth and yet increaseth.”
Careful of the Fragments
And lastly, note that Jesus was very careful of the fragments. One would have thought that Jesus was too rich to trouble Himself about the fragments. Surely it was but labour lost to sweat and stoop and stumble in the dark, to fill their wicker baskets with the scraps. But Jesus is imperious. “Gather the fragments that remain,” is His command. And the twelve disciples, who a little before had been sent out to heal and teach and preach the Gospel, had now, in the presence of the thousands, to set about sweeping the crumbs. It was a splendid discipline. Someone has said that if two angels came to earth, the one to rule an empire, and the other to sweep a crossing, they would never seek to interchange their tasks. And our own poet has told us that:
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine,
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.
But was that all? I think not. It was not merely to discipline the disciples that Jesus commanded the fragments to be gathered. We cannot read the story of His life, but we detect care for the fragments through it all. The fragment of a day, how He employed it!
- The fragment of a life, how He redeemed it!
- The fragment of a character, how He ennobled it!
Yes, that is His great passion–to love and lift our fragmentary lives till they are brought into the image of His own.