The little boy should have been ashamed by his lunchbox.
Five loaves of bread and two fish. Seriously inadequate. Worse yet, his loaves of bread were barley, the poor man’s bread. When he stepped forward from the crowd of thousands, his lunchbox revealed his socioeconomic position: low on the totem pole.
The Bible compels us to ask questions about life’s lacks and abundances: why was there so little bread and fish when there was so much hunger among the 5,000? And why not ask a few more questions that follow naturally, like: why was there so little to eat while the Israelites wandered around in the desert? And while you’re in the habit of asking, keep at it until you ask the big one: why do I have so little in life?
God delights to make much of himself by making much of your little. God loves to take your nothing and make himself look like everything. How little or how much you have is not the fallout of chance and coincidence. It’s the result of providential design.
This changes what you do with it.
Here’s a story of a man who had little: my wife once worked in a nursing home. A favorite resident was an older man who was a pastor for most of his life and I count myself very fortunate to have enjoyed a few visits with him. In a conversation made dear to my memory with this elderly man, I asked: “what was your favorite subject to preach?” Now, he was a few months out from his death and, intellectually, he had very little left. Sometimes he would confuse the workers with his wife, sometimes he would confuse his friends as his enemies, which is to say that his mind’s resources were quickly dwindling. But he opened his lunchbox and offered me these few loaves and fish: “son, just give them Jesus.”
Those five words have had more lasting impact than most books I have read on the subject of preaching. Those five words, if I had read them on a blog about homiletics, I probably wouldn’t have even underlined. Those five words, if I had read them in a book about the craft of preaching, I probably wouldn’t have even starred or highlighted. Those five words, I confess, I would have skimmed if they had been written by a popular author.
This is God’s big design behind little: when an elderly man with few intellectual resources and some tears in his eyes offers you five little words, God loves to multiple those five words to feed 5,000 sermons. It makes God, not man, look glorious.
And so when the little boy offers Christ five loaves and two fish, something a little humorous happens. Christ gives thanks for it. There might have been a giggle that rippled across the crowd when this happened. Before 15,000 hungry individuals, Christ holds up a seriously inadequate lunchbox and gives thanks for second-rate bread and fish. And what comes next is more surprising than water turned into wine: he turns lack into abundance, a lunchbox into a buffet, laughter into praise.
So here is the lie behind your little: if you’re going to feed the five-thousand, you need five-thousand loaves, five-thousand fish, five-thousand dollars, or five-thousand talents. This is the hiding heresy in the disciples’ responses. Phillip looks at the five-thousand and concludes they don’t have enough money (no complex math required here). Andrew looks at the loaves and fish and concludes it’s not enough food (and no statistics degree required here).
And here is the truth behind your little: if you’re going to feed the five-thousand, you don’t five-thousand of anything, you need Jesus. In creation, God makes much of little by creating everything out of nothing. In the wilderness, God makes much of little by creating manna from dew. In the New Testament, God makes much of little by multiplying the Christian church with an apostle of no lofty speech.
I preached a sermon with this very theme, and right after the service one of our church’s children gifted my wife with a coloring she drew during the sermon. The drawing is anatomically incorrect, my son’s name is spelled incorrectly (“Rustle” instead of “Russell”), and our house’s color is off. It now hangs on our fridge because we love it. This is the very spirit of the little boy and his lunchbox: a childlike confidence in the quality of the recipient, not the gift.
Is your spirit so marked by worldly confidence in your giftings, rather than childlike confidence in Christ, that you no longer offer him your misspelled colorings for his fridge?
In the world’s estimation, that coloring is of little value. It will never hang in a painting gallery and it will never secure a feature in an art magazine. But in the world’s estimation, Jesus looked too small to be the Christ. The cross he beared was designed to make him look little. Those crosses were reserved for the servants, slaves, subhumans, and beasts. Those crosses were built for the very worst people in Roman society. And that cross has proved to be the place where God has made the most out of the least.
The cross was meant to be an offering to the Roman Imperial Court, a flamboyant demonstration of its power if anyone dared conspire against it, and Christ transformed it into an offering to God to bring many sons and daughters to glory. The Christ whose body was broken, like a loaf of barley bread before a hungry crowd, has been passed around for the last two-thousand years and the more this bread is indulged in, the more leftovers there are to collect. The more Christ is feasted on the more churches are planted, the more the world rings with his praise, and the more libraries are filled with books about him,.
The so-insufficient-seeming Christ of calvary continues to satisfy not only the five-thousand, but the world of the past, present, and future all feast without end in the crucified Christ.
In writing, I have held in mind the pastor who has little skill, the church member who has little finances, the recent convert who has little reputation, and the employee who feels like she has little to offer at work. Don’t despise your little. Celebrate whatever lack in your life makes you feel small, and simply offer it to Christ. It gladdens the heart of Christ to glorify himself with your little.