A test of imagination

It was getting late. Jesus had already spent the day healing the sick who had followed him on foot. Now it was nearly time for the evening meal, and thousands of hungry people were spread out before them. He already knew that he would feed them. But he decided first to create a teaching moment for his disciples.

He turned to Philip and asked, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” (John 6:5, CEB). John tells us that Jesus asked this to “test” Philip, a word that can also be translated as “tempt.” Was Jesus singling him out because of his lack of faith? Possibly. But it may simply have been that Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was one of the locals. Their hometown of Bethsaida was nearby, and Philip would have known where to find the closest supermarket.

“More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit!” Philip sputtered in response (vs. 7). They probably didn’t have that much money in the group purse, and it would have taken much more for everyone to actually have a meal.

Andrew then spoke up. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish,” he offered. He was describing a poor person’s meal — and for a poor child at that. It wasn’t much, and Andrew knew it. He sighed, “But how far will they go among so many?” (vss. 8-9).

I picture a sly half-smile spreading on Jesus’ lips as he told the disciples to have the crowds recline on the grass. He then used the boy’s sack lunch to feed over 5,000 people, with leftovers to spare.

We’ll look at the miracle itself, and the response to it, in upcoming posts. For now, consider the test of imagination to which he subjects poor unsuspecting Philip.

Jesus already knew that he was about to perform another miraculous sign, and he wanted the disciples to pay close attention. Posing a problem and asking them to solve it was definitely one way to do that. Philip, caught off guard by Jesus’ question, could only see the situation as impossible. Even with the signs he had already seen his master perform, he couldn’t yet imagine what Jesus would do.

Nor could Andrew. But he went Philip one better: he brought what resources he could find to Jesus, though he had no idea what use Jesus would make of them.

So it goes. The needs of the world are great, and our resources are limited. The situation seems impossible. But what might Jesus do with what meager resources we lay at his feet?