Back to Basics (July 29, 2016)
Back to Basics
Have you ever taken a moment to give thanks for all that goes into your daily bread? Think about it. Even for something as simple and basic as bread, there is so much that has to go right just to get it to your table. You need good soil, good weather, and healthy farmers to grow and harvest the wheat. You need machinery to harvest and transport that wheat along with the intelligent engineers and manufacturers who make that equipment. There are people who combine the wheat with all the other ingredients, bake the bread, and ship it to stores where you can buy it. Finally, you need a vehicle and gas to get to the grocery store, and money so that you can buy it, bring it home, and finally eat it. All that just for a loaf of bread! In fact, I condensed quite a bit as well.
Sometimes things just become so automatic. Have you ever doubted that you would have daily bread? Have you ever worried about where your next meal would come from? I think for the vast majority of you, you probably haven’t. And I give thanks to God for providing for you in such an abundant way. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we forget that this is all a gift from God and not something we do strictly on our own. Sometimes we forget that everything we have and all our abilities are God’s gifts to us. His way of providing for our every need.
Jesus wanted to remind his disciples of this. He wanted to bring them back to basics. Things were going quite well for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was gaining a larger and larger following ever day. The people who came to him were genuinely interested in what he had to say, and they were favorable toward Jesus. The disciples had just come back from mission trips and were amazed to find that even though they didn’t pack anything for their journey, all of their food and clothing were provided by generous people. Things were going great. And now, a large crowd gathered even in a remote area just to be with Jesus and hear him! But in order to remind his disciples of where all this comes from, he asks a simple question to bring them back to basics.
“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?’” (Jn 6:5). It seems then that Jesus went about teaching and conversing with the crowd as he allowed his disciples time to ponder and work out a solution to this big problem. Obviously, Philip told the other disciples to get their input as well. They went about their afternoon with furrowed brows and brief, frantic conversations between one another until it was time to eat. Jesus regrouped with his disciples with an expectant look upon his face. “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (Mk 6:7) Philip blurts out with frustration! Andrew has brought someone with him, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (Jn 6:9). Both of these disciples were focused on what they could do, what they could provide. Both of these disciples completely forgot about all they had seen Jesus miraculously do. They were at the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine (Jn 2:1-11). They had seen him heal a number of people from countless diseases. They just went out on journeys, taking nothing with them, and yet were provided all they needed! And yet, when it comes down to something as simple as daily bread, they completely forgot that God provides this too.
Oh how often do we fall into the same boat? How often do we take all that we have for granted – the food that we eat, the clothes we wear, our abilities, our jobs, our families and everything else. We look around at all we have and simply take it all for granted. We forget about all the little details that all have to go just right even to have something as basic as daily bread. We forget that even though God has blessed us with skills, abilities, and jobs so that we can be provided for, we forget that all of it still is a gracious gift and blessing from God.
Because of our forgetfulness, sometimes God has to take us back to basics to remind us of the great miracle that each and every day is. “’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” (Jn 6:5-6). It did not just suddenly occur to Jesus that the thousands would be in danger since they had stayed with him so long. No, he let them stay until there was a problem. And although he knew exactly what he was going to do already, he allowed his disciples to wrestle with this problem to test them.
You might think that God testing us seems unfair or cruel. A test might seem like a trap to catch his disciples unprepared. But that isn’t the case at all. A fair test is never meant to trap or frustrate. I can still remember my dad saying as I sat in his catechism class, “I’m not trying to trick you with this test. I just want you to be able to show me what you know.” Jesus wanted to give his disciples an opportunity to show what they knew. A chance to prove both to Jesus and themselves that they have grown in the training and instruction they had received from Jesus. Would they be able to distinguish between the inability of human provision and the almighty power of their Lord to provide for the physical needs of that great crowd? Would they be able to think beyond the question of buying to the possibility that he had another solution in mind? Unfortunately, however, the disciples were only able to prove that they still had room to grow. In the same way, how often, when finances are tight or we are in the middle of a big transition, how often do we prove that we still have room to learn? Room to grow in our trust of receiving everything from God.
Once Jesus had revealed the need, he drew their minds away from themselves to the one who provide in both ordinary and extraordinary ways. He taught them to “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut 8:18). He brought them back to basics. Then he provided the solution.
The solution was already there. In fact, even in such a remote place, Jesus was able to provide not just for basic needs. He provided much more. “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down” (Jn 6:10). Don’t miss that point. The first time I read that this week I kinda chuckled and thought to myself, well there’s a pointless detail. But it’s not. They were in a remote place. And you know how some of the terrain in that region can be. It was mountainous. It was often rocky and jagged. But here, where Jesus decided to teach, it was grassy and comfortable to sit and eat.
Another part of the solution they already had was the five small barley loaves and two small fish. And even though this seemed to be a joke when the need was so great – really only able to get people thinking about food and make their stomachs grumble even more – yet, Jesus gave thanks! Not after multiplying it, before. When it was still just five loaves and two fish, Jesus saw it as a blessing from God!
The last part of the solution was Jesus. Jesus who is one with the Father who always “gives them their food at the proper time. He opens his hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing” (Ps 145:15-16). Jesus gave and gave and gave, and as he gave there was always more to give. He gave to each person “as much as they wanted” (Jn 6:11)! In fact, in Matthew’s account of this same event, he wrote, “They all ate and were satisfied” (Mt 14:20)! They didn’t have to skimp. The disciples didn’t have to limit or monitor as it was being passed out. They just kept on giving. Jesus kept on giving. And after everyone had eaten, they gathered up the left over pieces and “filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten” (Jn 6:13). The people immediately recognized it for what it was: a miracle!
That ought to be our attitude each and every day we wake up! It’s a miracle that all night long my heart kept beating and my lungs kept filling with air! That ought to be our attitude each and every time we bite into a piece of bread – or any other food for that matter. God made the good soil for the seeds to grow in. God provided the favorable weather. God enabled the farmers to do their important work of planting and harvesting. The engineers who build the machinery, the transportation, the bakers, other ingredients, and stores, gas in my vehicle and money in my wallet, each and every one of these things is a miracle of God’s providence! A miracle which God does each and every day, yes. An ordinary miracle, yes. But a miraculous gift from God each and every day.
As Jesus took the time to teach his disciples a very important lesson by bringing them back to basics, I pray that God never has to bring you back to basics by reducing you to your need. Because I pray that each and every day you realize how you are surrounded by God’s abundant blessing of provision. May your table prayer at lunch today have much more depth in meaning. May your bed time prayers be a sincere request that God preserve you until another day. And if you don’t do it already, maybe you can even say a morning prayer, thanking God for the new day and all you know he can provide.