MsDora, a former teacher and Christian counselor, presents practical Scriptural principles for joyful everyday living.
The story is popular because of its miracle feature—feeding five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fish. Yet, as happens with almost everything Jesus did, there are wisdom gems beneath the surface. Principles of kindness are at the heart of this story.
The miracle is recorded in all four gospels1 and when the reports are synchronized, here’s what we know:
On hearing about the death of John the Baptist, Jesus wished for some time alone. He walked to a secluded area near the Sea of Galilee, but the people followed Him and stayed all day. By evening time, when they became hungry, there were more than five thousand in attendance.
Matthew, Mark and Luke combine all the disciples into one voice, telling Jesus to send the people away to buy food, perhaps because they were also ready to eat. John gives the most detailed account of the miracle. He mentions four characters, including Jesus, in the story and each of the four divulges a kindness principle.
(1) Jesus: Kindness is Selfless
In Matthews’s account, Jesus, neglecting his own need for quietness and rest, “had compassion on the crowd”2 (Matthew 14:13) and began to minister. The sight of people wanting hope in the midst of their religious and political struggles aroused His concern, and He prioritized their needs above His. He preached, He healed, and the crowd stayed until evening.
In John’s account, He was the first to speak in the interest of the people. He spoke to Philip who was a native of Bethsaida, a city nearby, therefore most qualified to answer His question. “He said to Philip, who belonged to that region, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ (John 6: 5). Notice that the Spiritual Teacher also paid attention to his listeners' physical needs. He initiated kindness—concern for the well-being of others, without any thought of reward. Such is the anatomy of sincere kindness.
(2) Phillip: Kindness Is Worth More Than Money
In answer to Jesus, Philip made a calculation of the cost. “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7) But the people needed more than a bite, and they did not have six months to accumulate wages. The task of arriving at an accurate arithmetical answer for feeding five thousand was mind-boggling. Truth is, currency is not an appropriate measurement for the cost of kindness.
Even when the act of kindness calls for money, contributors focus on its value to the receiver, who often rates it as priceless. In moments of kindness, gifts of money, time, skills or whatever the form of the kind deed, givers are satisfied that they made the best use of the commodity. Helping someone win a battle over life’s difficulty can be as valuable as life itself.
(3) Andrew: Kindness Is Never Too Little
While Philip was lost in a feeling of helplessness, Andrew made a valuable find. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.” He was practical though, and he voiced his doubt. “But how far will they go among so many?” (John 6: 9).
Jesus instructed the disciples to seat the people on the grass. Then, “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.” (John 6:11) Andrew’s question was answered. And there were twelve baskets full of leftovers.
Here is a lesson for all mankind that a little word of encouragement, a little touch of comfort, a little bowl of soup, a short ride to the grocery store may seem minimal to the donor. Yet, when divine favor accompanies it, what seems like not-enough becomes obviously more-than-enough. Just give, and let the supernatural take the gift as far as it needs to go.
(4) The Boy: Kindness Is a By-Product of Self-Discipline
If the little boy carried his lunch, he was very disciplined unlike children who eat just because there’s something to eat. If he carried it to sell, which is still a habit among poor children traveling in the region, he was disciplined enough to pay attention while the Teacher was speaking. Whatever the reason, the little boy practiced self-control, without which, he would have nothing to give. He gave selflessly.
People who keep on eating even when they’re not hungry may not have any food to donate to the food bank. The excessive shopper who buys more products than she needs may not be able to extend a helping hand to the mother who is unemployed, because of COVID. On the other hand, people who are disciplined to share are likely to save up something, just in case they are called on to give. There would be more kind acts, if more people disciplined and prepared themselves to be kind.
The world needs kindness now more than ever. Selfless hearts are in demand. If more people discipline themselves like the little boy, and keep something ready to give, there will be lots of little kindnesses that God could miraculously turn into much.
Jesus did not snap His fingers to feed the five thousand, and He is not likely to do it when the beginning of the miracle is in human hands. When people surrender the little that they have in their possession—prayer and faith included, God will give the increase. Prayer will keep the focus on concern for each other. Faith will access the distribution of God's rewards for large and little acts of kindness.
And miracles seem to happen more often when someone is kind enough to request them for someone else.
Reference: Bible Hub Commentaries on John 6:1-15
1 Matthew 14: 13-21, Mark 6: 30-44, Luke 9: 10-17, John 6:1-15
2 All Bible quotations are from the Easy-to-Read Version.
© 2021 Dora Weithers