The account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is renown. From preschool to the pulpit, this historical event has been told and retold for the glory of God. However, there is someone in this true story that remains a mystery. Someone who has always captivated my curiosity. Since God has chosen this season for our family to travel on global mission to Kenya, Ukraine and now this year’s mission, the mystery of the unnamed person takes on a new light to me.
I don’t want to take away one ounce of awe and wonder at what Jesus did that day in this post. In fact, the goal is to continue to make much of Him – albeit differently than I’ve heard before about this passage of Scripture.
Read with me John 6:1-13
6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias),2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5 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?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
We read of several people involved in this awesome account – except one. The person who made the little boy’s lunch – presumably his mother, but even if it were his father or grandparent or sibling, the message is still the same.
Someone took the time to do two things for this little boy. One, they made time to let him go hear Jesus. We don’t know his age, but perhaps there were chores he could have been doing or he simply could’ve played with his friends. Someone let him go hear Jesus teach.
Two, they were forward-thinking and packed him a lunch so he would be equipped to stay for as long as Jesus was teaching.
There are so many unanswered questions like…
* When Andrew brought the boy and his lunch into the solution, was his mother standing right there, too, so close to Jesus and the disciples? Probably not. The 5,000 headcount refers to men. Women and children not withstanding. I would guess they sat on the fringe of where the men sat.
* Who prepared the fish for him? That seems like a task an adult would have done.
* Who taught him to share? Notice the boy didn’t put a fight about turning over his lunch. I have two boys, and let me tell you when they are hungry – they are hungry and looking for food to consume. So, if everyone else was already hungry, wasn’t he, too?
* Was he alone, or did he have siblings or friends with him? If he had siblings with him, would not they have had a lunch, too?
Hmm. My mind wanders to endless curiosities (it drives my family crazy sometimes. ) Back to the point.
Someone, let’s assume it was his mother by what we know of family dynamics back in that time period, prepared that little boy for the long haul. She packed him a lunch and gave him permission to go.
Traveling on mission with our children, I can relate a lot to this mom.
* Jesus is irresistible. If He were coming to town, you’d better believe I’d have my kids there quicker than any music concert or midnight movie premier. But, these days He works differently. He isn’t seen on a grassy mountainside, but He is very much still teaching and performing miracles. I don’t want my kids to miss a single moment they were destined to be a part of.
* Our children’s “lunchboxes” are crafted from the times we’ve poured Christ into their lives via prayer, conversation, Bible study, attending church, serving for Him, buying them devotionals, dedicating them as babies, and encouraging their faith in both subtle and direct ways in their 24/7/365. We try hard not to take any minute for granted, and do what we can to spur them on in their faith – even when that means we show our weaknesses and frailties.
* We let them go. For now, they go on mission with us (and sometimes without us, though well chaperoned). We allow experiences that are uncomfortable – even undesirable – if it means they meet Jesus in that moment. Our culture is dangerously soft in all ways. We are consumed with the idolatry of comfort. We want to play, eat and do whatever we want to. Hard work is nearly obsolete in the generation behind us. Example, (and this isn’t even for hard work – just plain work) I was in the grocery store recently when I walked up to the checkout clerk an asked him to page my husband since we didn’t have our phones with us and I needed his help. There wasn’t a soul around and this teenage guy had nothing to do but stand there and wait for someone to check out. He looked at me, without blinking, and said, “I could, but I just don’t want to. If you could go up to customer service that’d be great.” Infuriating, right?
One of the biggest disservices parents of my generation are doing is trying to get their kids to believe life is easy, they should be rewarded for nothing, and they should have their way every time. When the real world slaps them silly whether it be in college, at their first job interview, or when they are evicted for not paying rent because they don’t have a job, they will feel not only defeated, but betrayed – by their parents. Why didn’t you tell me. Teach me. Warn me. Show me, are thoughts rolling around in their heads as our teens are setting new records of stress, drug addition, suicide, drinking, nervous breakdowns, burnout and prescription drug dependency. I dread becoming old and depending on this generation to take care of me by way of voting on sketchy laws, working in nursing homes and other places I may need their help, and respecting the elderly in general.
No, I am not afraid to let my children have appropriately uncomfortable experiences like when our youngest couldn’t sleep on the long flight to Kenya. It was hard to watch him not be able to settle down, but he survived. Or when we were served food in Kenya that we had no idea what it was, and I looked at our daughter across the table with my mother’s eyes staring and silently said, “Smile. Eat it. Be thankful.” We Americans have no idea how rude it would have been to say to the people who sacrificed their own food and poverty-level earnings to cook for us, Oh, my child won’t eat this, or doesn’t like this. Do you have something else? Not only does that give Christ a black eye as His ambassador, but it deeply harms cultural relations as Americans are viewed in a selfish, rude light. I teach my children to be thankful for what they are given, because I know how it feels to work hard on a meal to which a young guest casually replies, I don’t eat that.
I wanted to shout Amen! when our pastor said he doesn’t understand why parents are afraid to ask their 13 year-old to take out the garbage. On mission, our kids must carry their weight even more than when we’re home. Why? It’s not because we are mean parents, it’s because we’re all asked to carry our own weight, and it’s hard work. We’re all tired. We’re all hungry. We do help them out, but that is different from saving them every time they’re asked to do a job they don’t want to do or are tired of doing. Teamwork – yes! Enabling – no.
Why go through all of this anyway? Bruce and I have a few thoughts on this for our children:
(1) More than anything, we want our children to follow God wherever He leads. Toughening them now helps equip them for the future God has for them. It also helps them erase limits and believe the impossible with God. If anyone had told me even 3 years ago we’d being going on global missions, I would have laughed! I never want our kids to live within self-imposed boundaries that have held me captive my entire life.
(2) We want them to position themselves for God’s work. That little boy with the 2 fish and 5 barley loaves made his way through the crowd directly to the inner circle of Jesus and the disciples. We want our children to have a front-row seat to what Jesus is doing.
(3) We want them to be a part of whatever Jesus is doing – more than an onlooker, we want them to be in the middle of it. Taking them on mission now equips them for mission trips they may take when they are grown or any ministry He has for them. We want them to be comfortable jumping in with both feet.
(4) We want them to recognize the needs of others and want to be a part of the solution. The little boy knew everyone was hungry because mostly likely he was hungry, too. He surrendered his lunch for the good of the cause. We want our kids, in the same way, to surrender their time, energy and resources to the cause of Christ without hesitation or reservation.
(5) The days are evil and will become more so as the clock of history winds down. Take a look at the snapshot Paul gives Timothy of what humanity will look like in the last days:
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited,lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (NIV)
(The Message) Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.
(King James Version) This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
No matter how we slice and dice the translation, did your eyes glaze over this list like mine did simply because it doesn’t phase us? This is our normal. This is what we know. Imagine how shocking it must have been for Timothy to read it. How his eyes must have widened and a gasp heard under his breath while a cold chill ran down the back of neck as he read these “terrible” things. Yet, I read it and say with a sarcastic tone, “…And…so what?” because I am desensitized by its commonness.
No one knows when the sun will rise for the last time, but we want our children to be fully aware of the times, making the most of every opportunity. (Ephesians 5:15 – 16, Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.)
Jesus said it best in Matthew 10:16, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Missions certainly gives a lot of practice with this!
(6) We want to teach our children to look for Christ in the crowd, to follow where He leads, to be part of the solution, and believe His miracles as all of this helps strengthen their foundation of faith.
When on mission, God’s presence is real in a very different way than in our normal grind. He’s still there in the every day, but too often either we forget to look for Him because we are busy spinning on our hamster wheels, or we fail to see Him because we are positioned toward the back of the fighting line. Yes, God gives our kids opportunities in their every day to take a stand for Him, serve Him and seek Him (they have AMAZING witnessing stories they share with us at school and other places of how God sets divine appointments), but ask anyone on mission and they will say the same…spiritual battles are very in your face on mission. The more we teach our children while they are growing about what spiritual battles look like, and how to fight them in Jesus’ Name, the more they will be ready to fight them as an adult when they have left the nest.
There is a whole lot to learn packed in this one account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Today, we looked at one of the people whose name is omitted. The anonymous lunch packer working for the benefit of their child.
This reminds me of God’s promise to David regarding Solomon in 1 Chronicles 17:11,
When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.
He was referring to all that Solomon would do after David.
Relating this to our children, we seek not that they build their own kingdom, but that they are part of building the Kingdom of God by way of going into all nations as commissioners for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). If you ask Bruce, his mantra is this - I want our kids to do more for Christ than we’ll ever do in our lifetime!
Our lives were half over before we caught the vision of global missions. Our kids already have such a huge head start on us! Yeah! When we asked them to pen their thoughts on what missions means to them, something our youngest wrote sums this point up best…
“Now that I have both experiences in more rural countries and more westernized countries, I feel better equipped to be able to evangelize in most cultures.”
He is merely a tween. I get teary every time I think about how God is equipping them both for today and for their futures. It’s so exciting to be a part of it!
I am grateful for the person who packed that boy’s lunch and let him go, and in doing so has greatly encourage me to do the same. To meet this Man, Jesus Christ, that is crazy in love with the world – even those who have never heard His name…yet.
We will continue to pack their lunchboxes and let them go meet Jesus for as long as God allows. This may be across the street, across town, or across the globe.
I want to do everything I can as a parent to position them for miracles that still happen today. I want them to see Jesus up close and personal – within arm’s reach. To hear His voice, know His smell, and catch His passion for helping others. I want our kids to be so close to Jesus that they see His smile as He watches onlookers be amazed at His power. I want them to be so close to Him that they hear Him laugh under His breath as people see Jesus with fresh eyes that He loves them, cares for them, and wants to help them.
Any of us would agree that if we had been the parent on duty that day, we would have wanted our child exactly where this little guy was – not at home or with friends or in the back of the crowd. We have to believe this moment changed this little boy’s life. It’s still changing lives today. He carried this moment for the rest of his life saying, It was my lunch. Mine. Jesus used my lunch to feed 5,000 people! Changed indeed.
Changed is what Bruce and I desire for our kids. We want them to shoot far beyond the American dream, overcome their obstacles, and seek God with a passion that keeps them pursuing Him for the long haul. Through taking them on mission, we provide the lunchbox and let them go. God packs the miracles. What an honor it is to watch it unfold.
When reading our son’s words again above, I think I share the same smile as the mom who packed the boy’s lunch that day. As a mom, she was busy. She could’ve played this out a hundred different ways, but she chose to pack a lunch and send him to go to Jesus where He was – on a mountainside.
God’s given each of us parents a lunchbox to pack for our children. How will we use it?