When You’re Down to Five Loaves and Two Fish
“We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” That’s what the disciples say when Jesus tells them to “give [the great crowd] something to eat.”
Five loaves and two fish. I know what that’s like, and I’ll bet you do too. A couple of weeks ago one of my best friends called to give me the most recent report from her oncologist and I felt like I had nothing but five loaves and two fish.
Another day of masks, social distancing, and watching the numbers feels like another five loaves and two fish day. The unemployment numbers, job losses, and the almost daily calls I now get asking for help remind me that many people are living a five loaves and two fish life. And I wonder if my five loaves and two fish can do anything to feed the hunger for justice and dignity of the people in our world, the immigrants, and the refugees.
When have you felt like a five loaves and two fish kind of person? What events or circumstances have caused you to say, “There’s nothing here but five loaves and two fish?” What does it feel like? What thoughts run through your head on those days?
In the five loaves and two fish times of my life I feel overwhelmed, powerless, hopeless. I feel like more is being asked of me than I can give or handle. I don’t know what to do or say. I’m afraid, sad, exhausted. I’m lonely and in a deserted place. It’s getting dark and, just like the disciples, I want to “send the crowds away” to fend for themselves. It’s not just that I don’t think I have enough, but I begin to believe that I am not enough. I am not enough to make a difference and I am not enough to handle what is before me.
Does any of that sound or look familiar to you? You know what I’m talking about, right?
What are we to do in the five loaves and two fish times of life?
Let me begin with what not to do. Let’s not sit around waiting for Jesus to magically give us more bread and fish. That’s probably not going to happen. Besides, the problem isn’t a lack of bread and fish. It’s a lack of vision for our lives, the great crowd, and the future. It’s a lack of imagination for what could be. It’s a lack of compassion for others and ourselves.
We need to learn to see in a new way. We need new eyes and new vision. That’s what Jesus is saying when he tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” He’s asking us to change the lens through which we see, gain a new vision, and see with new eyes. He sees and trusts that we already are and have enough to feed the great crowd. Maybe that’s what we need to see and trust about ourselves and each other.
So, I want us to look at Matthew 14:13-21 a bit differently than we usually do. What if it’s more about eyes than stomachs? What if it’s more about seeing than feeding? What if it’s more about compassion than bread and fish?
Jesus and the disciples saw the same great crowd. But they responded very differently because they see differently. Jesus and the disciples represent two ways of seeing. “Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves,” the disciples tell Jesus. And Jesus tells them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
The disciples see the crowd and focus on the resources outside of themselves. They’re trying to figure out how to feed more than 5000 empty stomachs with five loaves of bread and two fish. The math is not on their side. They’re right in saying, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” There is not enough. And there will probably never be enough as long as we’re doing the math.
Jesus, however, focuses on the resources within himself. He sees the great crowd and has compassion. He experiences their need at a gut level. He feels their hunger as his own. He sees himself as one of them. His inward parts are stirring and turning over. It’s a visceral reaction like when we feel sick to our stomach or break down and weep at the pain, loss, or need of another. Compassion is always the lens through which Jesus sees.
His compassion lets him see the five loaves and two fish not as a limitation but as a possibility. He’s not calculating and doing the math; he’s imagining the possibility of the impossible. He has no need or desire to send the crowd away. Instead, he makes room for them. He’s seeing with the eyes of his heart and not just his physical eyes.
I wonder, what keeps you and me from seeing and living like that? What if we began to see like that? What if we saw with the eyes of our hearts? What if compassion was the lens through which we saw ourselves and one another?
When we see the hunger, pain, or needs of another with eyes of compassion our priorities change, we imagine new possibilities, and resources are multiplied. Compassion calls us to speak up for and to reach out to another. It means saying yes even before we’ve counted our loaves and fish. That’s how I want to live, don’t you?
I want to trust that my five loaves and two fish are enough and that they will make a difference. I want to believe that I am enough and that I will make a difference. I want to see you, the world, and myself through the lens of compassion. And I want to act on that compassion, don’t you?
What is your compassionate vision for our country today? For refugees, immigrants? For essential workers, healthcare providers, and first responders? For administrators, teachers, parents, and students? For those making decisions when there is no good or right answer? What is your compassionate vision for those who have lost jobs and businesses? For the sick and dying? For those you love and those you’ll never know? For those who are just like you and those who are your opposite? For you and your needs?
What is compassion asking of you today? How will you act on it? To whom will you reach out and for whom will you speak up? Look with the eyes of your heart and you’ll see who that is. Imagine anew what our lives and our country might become, and you’ll know what to do.
What can you and I do with our five loaves and two fish? We’ll never know until we start feeding the great crowd. And we might just be surprised at what we’re capable of. Let’s stop doing the math and set the table.
Look! Look around. Dinner’s ready.
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