Jonathan de Bernhardt Wood
Reading this story, I have great sympathy with the disciples. They instinctively look at what they do not have, rather than what they do. They focus on the 4,999 meals they do not have, rather than the one they do. In the jargon, they have a ‘scarcity mindset’ but it’s an understandable mindset to me. Very often, I adopt that scarcity mindset without even realising, listing in my head all the things that I do not have before deciding a task is impossible, rather than looking at what I have and how it could become possible.
In Mark 9 the father of an epileptic child asks Jesus to heal his son. When Jesus challenges him, asking him if he believes, he says “I believe! Help my unbelief!”. Similarly here, the disciples believed in Jesus, just not enough to believe he could feed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.
In this remarkable story, Jesus gently unpicks the disciple’s scarcity mindset, and challenges the limits of their faith in him. He shows them that they have a choice – if they focus on what they do not have, they cannot focus on what they do. They can focus on what in human terms is impossible, or focus on the Son of God who makes all things possible. They can focus on what limited resources they have, or the limitless generosity of God.
There’s real comfort and hope in this story. The comfort is that, as ever, when we struggle with being faithful, and trusting in God, and living out God’s generosity, then the disciples have struggled with it too. The hope is that God can transform what we have – our doubts, our insecurities, our limitations, our scarcity mindset – in the same way that Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and fed 5,000. We believe in a God of extraordinary generosity, who “by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”. (Ephesians 3: 20-21).