But Jesus said to them, "You give them something to eat." They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish-unless we are to go and buy food for all these people." (NRSV: Luke 9:13)
Christians are very familiar with the verse, yet it was one that Christians don't understand.
We're familiar with it because we all know the story of "Feeding the five thousand." We don't understand it because we don't know why the Lord said that.
Why did the Lord say that instead of "All right, let them go find some food"?
The Lord really should've said that either based on common sense or the situation. After all among those followers there were people who came well prepared with money or food. There was no way they had nothing. They saw Jesus and his disciples perform many miracles in different cities like healing the demoniac and the patients, and spreading the heavenly Gospel. They knew the team was wonderful so they voluntarily formed a fan club to follow Jesus wherever he went. From the fans today we learned that in order to get close to their idol, however blindly, they always have some money in their pocket just in case they get hungry. Because the disciples knew the "fans" had money and food they came to Jesus and said, "Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place." (NSRV: Luke 9:12)
From Luke we know that it was more than one disciple who urged Jesus to make a decision. Interestingly, they all had the same purpose: to not accept the unknown people! So when Jesus said "Give them something to eat," they quickly responded with "We have no more than five loaves and two fish." In man's understanding, the disciples meant good and they did want the fans to lodge and get provisions. Even the situation suggested the disciples were right since they did not have enough to offer. However, at that moment they didn't know the will of God.
Today we're facing the same situation. With many desolate churches and so many lambs who don't have enough, we're saying the same thing, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish." After we say it there's nothing to be done. Indeed with the current condition, we can't do much, let alone if we're poorer than them. Even the disciples didn't have much on them, and the five loaves and two fish were from a little fan.
It is indeed the mindset of many church leaders and believers nowadays: We can't take care of our own, so how can we take care of others? It is hard for us to take the first step to help others with this idea occupying our hearts. Looking at the cruel reality, the desolate churches, and the hungry believers, we're either indifferent or powerlessly crying: Oh Lord, we only have five loaves and two fish!
However, the Lord said, "Bring them here to me." (NRSV: Mat 14:18)
I have no idea whether Jesus said it calmly or not, but I know that when the disciples heard him, though they didn't know what it meant, they brought the little food left to the Lord. Hence, a great wonder occurred in the hands of the Lord: Feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish!
"Bring them here to me" back then the disciples heard the imperative tone of voice, but the disciples today miss it. As a result, the cruel reality is still cruel, the desolate churches are still desolate, and the hungry believers are still hungry. There's only one way to change the situation, which is to hear the order from the Lord "Give them something to eat" and "Bring them here to me" and take actions.
The Chinese churches are like a big family and we're all brothers and sisters in the family. If there's no help between brothers and sisters, how will the big family thrive? Only with us taking care of each other will the family be harmonious, and there won't be the cruel reality of polarization between rich and poor like in the world. The polarization between rich and poor has existed for a long time because in the world people don't treat each other like family, but like clients. In economic fields or business fields, they see each other as clients and let profit speak. With that relationship, it is inevitable there will be polarization between rich and poor. But we're not like that. "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." (NRSV: 1 Cor 12:26) We're truly one family and we call each other brothers and sisters because we know our relationship was decided the moment God saved us. No one can change that fact.
Therefore, we should care for each other and pay more attention to the desolate churches. Only with us being each other's shepherd, i.e. old and young, couples, brothers, men and women, urban churches and rural churches, will the churches have balanced development, and the family of God won't be hurt due to imbalance. "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbors for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself." (NRSV: Rom 15:1-3)
Give them something to eat.
The urban churches spare some pastoral personnel to the rural churches, while the rural churches distribute some believers to the urban churches; abundant churches donate some help for the churches in need, while the churches in need present blessings for the abundant churches; big churches give some goods for small churches, while small churches give big churches more encouragement. God enjoys it when we pray for and bless each other. Indeed each believer in every church has his or her own difficulties, but if we maintain each other and help each other, there will be fewer desolate churches and hungry believers in China.
So it seems if there is a mutual cooperation chain between urban and rural churches in China, with different gifts and alignments, we can adapt the method of "Exchanging rice with potatoes" and maintain each other. Activate the mode of "Hens leading chicks" nationwide to bring along the churches with difficulties and grow with other members. Do not let the people God loves and the churches solve problems based on common sense, let alone let those people and churches leave God due to "actual conditions."
In the age of the internet, there are members who are capable of such ministries. There is always a way to connect the churches in China through a website, an app or flyers. When the platform is built, the abundant churches and churches in need can help each other, and the strong and weak members can interact.
Therefore, when the churches or believers in need reach a hand to you for help, please don't just say "We have no more than five loaves and two fish." We need to learn to follow the order of our Lord, and present the loaves and fish (sometimes not even ours) to the Lord, so that he can bless them and whoever the Lord loves will benefit from it. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." (NRSV: Mat 5:42) Jesus also said, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (NRSV: Mat 25:40)
Give them something to eat, or food, or truth, or money, or manpower. There is something that hungry people and the churches need.
(The author is a rural preacher in Guangxi.)