Prayer and Action
Part 5 in a series on Prayer by Tim Bias
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’”
Feeding & the Lord’s Supper
I find it interesting that the feeding of the 5000 in Luke’s Gospel is told as a Lord’s Supper story.
- Is there a connection between Holy Communion and feeding the hungry?
- Is there a connection between the Lord’s Supper and our engagement in the community?
- Could it be that our ministries are done in remembrance of Jesus?
In Luke, we find the Lord’s Supper three times: in the feeding of the 5000, during the last meal in the Upper Room, and after the Resurrection with the travelers to Emmaus. There was no distinction between the fellowship meal, the Love feast, and the Lord’s Supper in the early church.
In fact, there was a time when the Lord’s Supper was called the Love Feast. People came and shared their food with the church. At that time, you couldn’t tell who brought food and who didn’t because all the people gave and ate together. The Love Feast and Lord’s Supper were one in the same.
For practical reasons, we separated the fellowship meal and Holy Communion. But from the beginning, eating together had the same respect as Holy Communion.
Four Main Acts
When the people are hungry, Jesus takes bread and fish, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them. These are the main acts of Holy Communion. I think it is important to understand that Jesus put prayer and action together.
When the people are hungry, he prays. Why? What does prayer have to do with it?
When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” (They said this because about five thousand men were present.)
Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” They did so, and everyone was seated. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers.
An Occasion for Ministry
The feeding of the 5000 is a familiar story found in each of the four gospels. It occurs somewhere close to Bethsaida, located in a remote area of Northeast Galilee. The people have gathered for Jesus’ teaching and healing.
The crowd has been with Jesus all day. It is now late and the people are hungry. The twelve, those closest to Jesus, have a humanitarian concern for the hungry and the homeless. “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food…”
The disciples want to do what is humanly possible to assist the people. So, they suggest it is better to dismiss the crowd. Notice that it is their well-intentioned response to the situation, their concern for others, that causes them to notice the situation. Jesus responds, “You give them something to eat.” What Jesus thought would be a getaway for himself and the twelve disciples become an occasion for ministry.
What Do You Have?
The disciples replied, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” They said this because about five thousand men were present. Notice that the disciples are still thinking about what they do not have.
Jesus instructs them to seat the people in groups of fifty. When the people are seated, Jesus takes the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looks up to heaven, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples to serve to the crowd. Notice that earlier Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”
As Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives, he includes the disciples in the giving. Jesus does not give the food to the people directly, but through his followers. Throughout The Acts of the Apostles, God’s concern for the hungry is implemented by the acts of Jesus’ followers.
As Jesus moves people from prayer to action, the details are important to note.
- The number “five thousand” shows how great the miracle was. The term “men” represents a picture in which only adult males would leave home without provisions for an extended time in order to hear Jesus. In Matthew, the words “besides women and children,” states it in an exclusive sense in order to enhance the miracle.
- “In groups of fifty” reflects the organization of Israel during the exodus and wilderness period, the “wandering people of God” on their way to the promised land. Luke portrays the life of both Jesus and the church as a journey and refers to the saving work of Jesus as “exodus.”
- The words “took”, “blessed”, “broke”, and “gave” reflect the liturgical formula used in holy communion. They reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table. The feeding of the 5000 is told as a Lord’s Supper story.
- Jesus took and blessed the loaves and fish. In Jewish meals you bless God. “Blessed are you Lord God, creator of the universe. You provide for all your children.” You and I “bless the food.”
- Blessing in the Greek is the word “eulogy.” Blessing is to eulogize God. Jesus took the food and eulogized it, broke it, and gave it.
- Early in the Christian movement, fish became the symbol of Christian faith. A fish says who we are and what we believe. Jesus looked up to heaven, blessed God, broke the bread and fish, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people gathered in groups of fifty.
- Bread became the symbol of the body of Jesus. So, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives, he includes the disciples in the giving. Remember, Jesus does not give the food to the people directly, but through his followers. Concern for the hungry is implemented by the acts of Jesus’ followers.
Feeding is a Sacred Act
The feeding of the 5000 is a Lord’s Supper story. Could it be that feeding the hungry in the sight of God is as sacred as Holy Communion? The prophet Isaiah wrote, “True expression of one’s love for God is the sharing of one’s bread with the poor.” Is there a connection between the Lord’s Supper and our engagement in the community? Is there a sacredness in loving, feeding, clothing, and housing people?
“All ate and were filled…” shows that there is plenty, and is for all. For Luke, the church’s mission of feeding the hungry is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry and an anticipation of the kingdom of God for which we pray, “…Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
When the people are hungry, Jesus takes bread and fish, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them. These are the main acts of Holy Communion. I think it is important to understand that Jesus put prayer and action together. When you give thanks and praise God and when you respond in acts of love…do it in remembrance of Jesus.