I remember from my days as a Sunday School teacher that the lesson material used to call this story "the miracle of the boy's lunch".
We could also call it the story of the "ill prepared crowd", or the "compassionate teacher", or the "hungry masses."
For today I would like to title it the "Bean Counter's Test", because here Jesus sets his disciples a practical examination.
Now we all know that to be a disciple means to be a learner, someone's follower or student, so I guess that it's quite natural that Jesus might include some testing to see just how the learners are learning.
I wonder how many of us have fond memories of sitting for tests and exams? I think I had almost forgotten how hard it is, how much anxiety and stress there is in sitting exams, until I went back to study. Ask Margery about it sometime ! The few weeks before exams I was hardly worth knowing.
It was different when I was a teacher, I didn't mind setting examinations, and marking them wasn't too bad either. But to be put through a test isn't a comfortable experience !@ But that's not to say that we don't gain from them. I think Philip and the other disciples gained a lot from this test ! even though what Philip was asked to do was beyond him and he failed.
How often do we get ourselves in a situation where we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can't do what we would like to. There isn't enough money or enough time? It's frustrating isn't it? In the story of the feeding of the 5000 Jesus says to Philip, "OK, here's the situation, what can we do about it? Come on Philip here's a big need, what are we going to do to meet it? In a broad sense the question hits us all the time, we don't have enough, we can't, we aren't able, but Jesus calls us to, to do what's not possible by logical human standards.
But, it's impossible to love as Jesus loved us, but it's impossible to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.
But, it's impossible to feed thousands of people ! and yet that's what Jesus asks Philip to come up with an answer for and somehow,.... the answer is found and the impossible is done
Let's look for a moment at Philip's response. He looks at the size of the crowd and his sensible logical bean counting brain whizzes into action, "Six months wages wouldn't pay for even a little for them to eat". Philip thinks rationally, practically. He thinks about the economics and the logistics of it. It's not possible, 200 silver coins for bread alone, .. Look at the cost !! we don't have the resources, we could be in debt for years !! I don't know if Philip had studied accounting at the Jerusalem institute, but I know there are many followers of Philip today. Philip was pragmatic and eminently sensible. So what then was Jesus? Plainly he wasn't reasonable or even sensible by human standards.
As you and I think about how we will respond to the challenges God tests us with will we think about how poorly qualified we are to comfort others, about how inadequate our leading skills are and so on? And then answer like Philip did?
All too often we look at our resources and our capabilities and say no, sorry I can't, I'd like to, but. And our reasons may be good and sensible, but God calls us to follow one who broke the bounds of what was reasonable and logical, the one who gave of himself beyond all measure.
Back in the gospel reading Andrew's response to Jesus was more positive, even if it was only the doubtful offer of such a little, he at least brought forward what he knew could help, the loaves and fish.
There are a few valuable pointers for us here.
Firstly Andrew doesn't just leave Philip to face the test alone. There's nothing worse than being deserted by your friends in a time of testing, but it takes a lot of courage to get in there and put yourself forward in someone else's place. Secondly, Andrew doesn't have a great solution to the seemingly impossible problem of feeding the crowd but he offers the little that he knew of to help.
Jesus takes this small doubtful offer and with it he meets the need. The miracle here is that Jesus works through the little one person had to offer in a tentative small step of faith.
It's like Indonesians saying "we can't do anything, it will always be this way", and a few dedicated people working with what little they have to help. And somehow,.... the job being done.
If we take our lead from Andrew we will be willing to have a go, to put ourselves at risk, to put ourselves out for others, even when, like Andrew we doubt our usefulness. We just might be shocked at what the grace of God can make of our willingness.
We are brought face to face with the needs of the world on the nightly news, and even that is such a limited picture of the real needs. We know about many of the needs in our own country and in our own community. If we are honest I guess we all meet situations where we think that we need to do something but don't feel able. The disciples looked at the need and said "we don't have enough", Jesus said "look at what we've got" and he used what little was offered.