As Jesus went ashore He saw a great throng; and He had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to Him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Then He made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.
Matthew 14:14-22 (Gospel on the Eighth Sunday of Matthew)
I remember one of the first things I learned when I learned my multiplication tables was that any number multiplies times zero is zero. That’s because you can’t multiply nothing. However, when you take a number, there are ways to multiply it. When you take a substance, there are ways to multiply that substance. And when you add Christ to the mix, He can take anything and multiply it with His blessings.
In today’s Gospel we hear one of the more well-known stories in the Bible, the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. This must have been an amazing scene. First of all the Gospel tells us that there were 5,000 men besides women and children. So there may have been more than 10,000 people present. Second, these people listened to Jesus teach all day. He didn’t have the benefit of a microphone, so they would have needed to be quiet in order to hear. I can’t imagine talking to ten thousand people without a microphone. Any more than 30 people leads me to use a microphone. We know that the people listened all day, because when Jesus ended, the day was spent. So the patience and quietness of people listening for hours must have been amazing.
When the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away because there was no food, Jesus told them to give them something to eat. We are not told whether it was the disciples who had the loaves and the fish, or if they had received them from the crowd. In either case, five loaves and fish would not feed 12 hungry disciples, let alone 10,000 people. Even multiplying it by 12 would have been impressive. Imagine the mood when Jesus went to multiply the food – was there doubt and cynicism? What was the mood like? And how about after all had eaten and there were twelve baskets left over, more food than they had started with?
Imagine the emotions of the people who produced the loaves and the fish. Let’s say that one disciple had a loaf of bread he packed at home in the morning. He was thinking that he would be hungry later and was being responsible for his sustenance. Imagine what he must have thought when the call went out for food. Perhaps he was mad, like “I brought this food and now I have to share it with those who didn’t think ahead and bring their own food.” I’m certain that he was scared – like “if I share this loaf, I will only get a few crumbs.” But in the end he must have been trusting – “I will give the only food I have and trust that I won’t go hungry.” And he didn’t – everyone had so much to eat and there was food left over.
The key to the miraculous feeding of the five thousand was that someone had to put forth something for Jesus to multiply. The scenario would have played out much different had no one given anything. The lesson here is that when we offer something to God, He multiplies it back to us. It may not be exactly what we offer that He offers back. If you offer $1,000 to charity, He doesn’t give you necessarily $10,000 in return. It doesn’t work like that. But when we offer sincerely and sacrificially, He rewards us with grace to complete what we lack. Someone offered bread and fish sacrificially. And Jesus multiplied it to make sure that the one who offered didn’t go hungry because of what he offered and that many others benefitted from the offering as well.
There have been occasions when I have offered a sacrificial (and even reckless) amount of time or money and seen God’s blessings come back to me almost instantaneously. When I go to summer camp, I offer all my time to this ministry – I sleep only a few hours a night. And yet God multiplies the hours I sleep so that even when I only sleep three or four, I have a clear head the next day to teach and to work properly. That, to me, is an example of God taking something little and multiplying it into something greater.
It takes a great deal of trust to offer something to God especially if it can potentially weaken our ability to eat or live. The key to giving, however, is realizing that we have nothing to give, merely we give back from what He first gave us. So when the cry came, “who has food to give?,” if a person saw the bread as his own, he would not have stood up and shared. However, if a person sees everything good as coming from God, when the cry comes “who has something to give?,” it is much easier to answer “I have something to give back.”
Remember two things from the Gospel reading – we have nothing to give, only to give back. And when we give something to God, He can multiply what we give and do much good with it. When we offer nothing, we offer nothing for Him to multiply. We know that God can create out of nothing, so that wasn’t the point of the miracle. We work in concert with God – that’s what Christianity is all about. We give back. He multiplies. And people are fed with His Word. So, don’t be afraid to offer sacrificially to others and to the church, whether you are offering time, or whether you are offering a generous donation. Because whatever you give back, He will revisit on you in some way, just as He did for people in that crowd who offered whatever little they had.
Life was laid in the sepulcher, and a seal was laid on the stone. And as if guarding a King in His sleep, so the soldiers guarded Christ; and Angels glorified Him as the immortal God. The women cried aloud, “The Lord has risen and granted the world great mercy.” (First Kathismata, Sunday Orthros, Grave tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Give back to God today. Do it sacrificially and joyfully. And He will multiply what you offer to others as well as back on yourself.