By Matt Redmond
“…the people…hope for just two things: bread and circuses.” —Juvenal, ca. AD 100
I love this story of the loaves and fish, if only because I can see myself in the crowd and so little of myself in Jesus.
As a kid, when I heard this story told, a lot was made of the five loaves and the two fish the kid offered up (John 6:9). We were taught to believe God can do a lot with our little…or something of the sort. Not a bad lesson, but I’m not sure that’s the point.
This miracle was not just a big deal to those in the crowd because of how miraculous the event was. It was a big deal because food was not easy to come by for them. They did not live in middle-class enclaves with money to burn. Most worked to provide for the day’s meal and did the same the next. There were no savings and money market accounts.
So a man who could multiply food for that many people and have leftovers was someone worth following. You would think this would be good news for Jesus. But according to John, “when Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15).
So what was the point?
Jesus Himself gives us a clue when He says later in John 6:26, “Truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”
Think about what a sign does. It points to something. It is not the thing. If I take my family on vacation and on the way, we see a sign telling us we are near our destination, we do not stop there and spend our time with the sign. The sign is not the point. The sign simply directs us to the point.
The multiplying of the five loaves and two fish was not the point. The sign pointed to Jesus. He was the point. But the crowd just wanted “bread and circuses.” They did not want Jesus because He was Jesus. They wanted Him because He could fill their bellies. They were probably thinking that with Him, they could overthrow Rome.
And I can see myself in them. Sometimes I just want to flourish in this life with health and wealth. I want the equivalent of a full belly and plenty of leftovers so I don’t have to worry about tomorrow. But that is a terrible reason to follow Jesus.
He knew their real problem was their sin. He did not come to separate them from their physical hunger and get them out from under the thumb of Rome. He came to bridge the gap between humanity and God and to take the penalty of death. I want to be like those who follow Jesus for Jesus alone.