Bible Text: Luke 9:10–17; Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:32–41; John 6:1–14
Lesson Focus: God responds to human needs with abundance.
Big Question: What can I do to help others?
Key Words: ABUNDANCE, SCARCITY, MULTIPLICATION, BLESSING
• Fully divine and fully human, Jesus could empathize with the hungry masses that followed him. He provided for their real-life needs—when they were hungry, he gave them food.
• Jesus’ disciples in every age do well to remember that the calling to follow him and invite others can never be separated from the physical needs of those whom we encounter.
• The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 parallels the bountiful manna from heaven received by the Israelites in the desert following the exodus from Egypt. Once again, God has fed the people and provided for their needs and, in doing so, the promises and figures of the past are recalled in the multiplication of the loaves.
• At the table we are fed by the Bread of life; Jesus feeds us and then calls us out into the world to do the same.
The story of the feeding of the 5,000 people takes place immediately following Jesus’ commissioning of the 12 disciples—they are given power and authority over demons and diseases and are sent out two by two to bring the good news to those who will hear it. If people will not receive their message, the disciples are to shake the dust from their feet and move on (Luke 9:1–6). The news of Jesus’ ministry reaches Herod, the same man who had John the Baptist killed (Luke 9:7–9). When the disciples come back from their mission, Jesus invites them to go to a solitary place (Luke 9:10). Then comes Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:11–17).
Jesus’ earthly ministry is a mixture of teaching, healing, and compelling summons to those who will heed the call of discipleship. While many of Jesus’ miracles have been recorded in the Gospels, the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle story repeated in each of the four Gospels: Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; and John 6:1–14.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was a human being who walked in the dirt like everybody else. He certainly knew basic human urges and needs. Jesus undoubtedly experienced hunger and, because of that human understanding, could have compassion on the masses that followed him. When the crowds before him hungered and required nourishment, Jesus didn’t just give them theology—he gave them food.
The followers of Christ have always been and will always be people with real-life problems and needs. Jesus’ way has been to address those needs, meeting people where faith and life intersect. The continuance of Christ’s mission in the world can never be separated from the joys and pains of followers and new believers. The United Nations Hunger Project (www.worldlegacy.org/HungerInfo.htm) estimates that about 24,000 people die every day from hunger-related causes, and 75 percent are children under the age of five. With hunger so prevalent in the world, we must ask the question of how the followers of Christ are called to respond.
Does Jesus ask more of us than we can provide? The disciples would have preferred to send away the hungry people, but Jesus had something else in mind. Like the disciples’ problem, the problems of the world today may seem insurmountable, but we are people of faith who believe in what may appear impossible.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 parallels the bountiful bread from heaven received by the Israelites in the desert following the exodus from Egypt. For those who knew the stories of the exodus best, this event would have been evocative of that event. Once again, God fed the people and provided for their needs. Jesus teaches with heavenly authority; he commands even the bread and fishes. The promises and figures of the past are recalled in the multiplication of the loaves; surely the one who works divine miracles of this scale must be sent from God. In these early days of Jesus’ ministry the question would be raised: Is this the messiah for whom the people of Israel have waited? Is this the bread of life that provides nourishment beyond one’s physical needs?
Lutherans and other faith communities are famous for their potlucks. We invite one another to bring a dish to pass, but do we invite those who have nothing, who are hungry? Jesus called his followers to feed the hungry, feed his sheep (see John 21:15–17). When we provide for the real needs of others, we continue the work of Christ in the world. It seems so overwhelming; so many in the world are hurting. When we pray to God to feed those who are hungry, perhaps we should be praying that God would move us to feed our hungry brothers and sisters.
Luke 9:17 reports that “all ate and were filled.” In this world of hyper-consumerism, how is it that we eat, consume, shop, surf, buy, buy, buy, and buy some more, and yet we do not seem filled? Few of us have known chronic hunger, yet we know what it is to hunger for meaning, truth, and love. At the table we are fed by the Bread of life; Jesus feeds us and then calls us out into the world to do the same.
What can I do to help others?
The students you teach are probably busy. They have little time for fellowship with family—both home and church—and little time to address the needs of others. In the feeding of the 5,000, youth can see Jesus’ generosity. Even though tired and needing rest, he gave up his quiet time to help others. His compassion on the crowd, shown in teaching and feeding them, sets the example for the students. Service to others is sometimes costly, requiring that we give up both our time and our personal preferences. Often youth will not be sure they have anything to offer. Assure them that God wants them to use their unique skills to serve others and, in so doing, declare how much God has done for them.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: What can I do to help others?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about ways you’ve been surprised by God’s abundance and moved to share with others.
Talk about a time when you thought there wasn’t enough and you were surprised by abundance. This could relate to food, or to any other resource—like friends, strength, or money—that is less scarce than we might sometimes think. How did God bless you and multiply your resources? How did you share this blessing with others?
Open the Bible
Have students read aloud Exodus 16:1–5, 11–15. Read it in two groups of five verses at a time. Discuss and list the order of events in this story. (1. Israelites complain and wish they were dead; 2. God tells the people that God has heard them; 3. God feeds them.)
Have students read Matthew 14:13–21 aloud, three verses at a time. Discuss and list the order of events in this story. (1. Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd; 2. The disciples tell Jesus that there is not enough food to do so; 3. Jesus says to bring the existing food to him; 4. Jesus feeds the crowd.)
Have students read Mark 14:12–26 aloud, three verses at a time. Discuss and list the order of events in this story. (1. Jesus meets with the 12 disciples for Passover dinner; 2. Jesus gives the disciples the first communion; 3. Jesus feeds the disciples with bread and wine.)
Tell the students to review the lists of the events of the stories to discover what connects all three of them. Help the students to prepare a Venn diagram to show what is similar in all the stories. The students will deduce that God feeds the individuals who are in the stories. No matter the situation, God takes care of them. The important idea for the students to grasp is that God takes care of God’s people. In times of trial, special events, or everyday life, God wants what is best for us and makes sure we have everything we need.
Read another version of the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9:10–17. Have students imagine that they are there as some of the disciples. They are tired from a full day of teaching and healing with Jesus. They are invited by Jesus to retreat and rest for a while, and suddenly a large crowd of people shows up. How do the students (disciples) feel at this time? How did the disciples respond in the story in Luke? (They wanted Jesus to send the crowd away.) The disciples figured that they did not have enough resources (food) to take care of the crowd. Have students take an inventory of their resources. What do they have that can be used to help others in need? (Be sure to include their personal service, prayer, and trust in God to use them as God’s disciples.)
Read the version of this story in John 6:1–14. Ask students how this story is different from the other gospel accounts. (A boy offered his five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus is the one who distributes the food.) Ask students why they think this story is included in all four Gospels.
Open the Catechism
Here We Stand Student Book page 302. Read the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer together as a class. Before you read Luther’s explanation of the petition, ask the class how this relates to the lesson today. Read Luther’s explanation together. How does Luther define “daily bread”?
Have the students sit or stand in a circle. Designate someone to go first. This person begins by saying “I know God meets my needs because _____ (fill in blank with a blessing from God).” The next person in line continues with “I know God meets our needs because of (repeat the first person’s blessing) and _____ (a blessing from God).” Continue in the same manner around the circle with each person repeating what she or he heard the others say. The last person tries to recite every person’s blessing before adding her or his own.
1. What two foods did God send for the Israelites in the wilderness? (Manna and quail)
2. How many loaves of bread did Jesus have to work with to feed the 5,000 people? (Five)
3. How many fish did Jesus have to work with to feed the 5,000 people? (Two)
4. Jesus said he was the bread of _____. (Life)
5. What did Jesus tell the disciples to do for the crowd of 5,000? (To feed them)
6. How many women and children are usually counted when telling about the 5,000 people? (Zero)
7. In what book of the Bible is the story of the Israelites and manna? (Exodus)
8. In what book of the Bible is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000? (All four Gospels)
Take a Break
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 1: Object Lesson Option: Bread of Life
Make Luther Seminary’s Communion Bread Recipe together as a class.
Prepare the following ingredients:
2 cups (475 ml) whole wheat flour
1 cup (235 ml) white flour
1¼ teaspoon (6 g) baking powder
1¼ teaspoon (6 g) salt
4 teaspoons (20 g) oil
¾ cup (170 g) + 2 tablespoons (30 g) very hot water (minimum of 180 degrees F [82°C])
3 tablespoons (42 g) honey
3 tablespoons (42 g) molasses
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175°C).
Sift dry ingredients together three times. Stir in oil. Set aside. Mix wet ingredients together until dissolved. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well. Dough should be slightly sticky. Do not knead. Divide into four balls and flatten each into a disk ¼ inch (6 cm) thick. With a knife, score the top of each loaf into eight pie-shaped sections so that the sections can be more easily broken off while serving. Alternatively, you could score a cross onto the loaf. Lay the loaves on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees (175°C) for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and brush the tops of the loaves with oil. Bake an additional 5–8 minutes. Let cool. Yields four 8 ounce loaves. Each loaf serves 60–70 people, depending on the size of the piece given. The loaves freeze well.
Make enough communion bread for the class to snack on and to serve at communion on Sunday. Save at least one loaf to use during the closing prayer. Ask questions while you’re baking and eating: Have you ever baked bread before? What’s your favorite kind of bread? How is this bread different from the bread you usually eat? Why is there no yeast in the recipe? Was there ever a point as you were baking that you worried you wouldn’t have enough?
Option 2: Science Option: Tiny Bubbles
Before the lesson, assemble the supplies, read through the experiment, and do a trial run. (This lesson has a wait time of about an hour—keep this in mind when you’re deciding when to begin this activity.
• Two self-sealing, quart-size plastic bags (one heavy-duty freezer bag and one perforated bag used to keep vegetables fresh)
• Baker’s yeast
• pH indicator strips (optional)
When Jesus fed the 5,000, there was more than enough for the people to eat. In the Old Testament, there is another story about having enough to eat—the manna and the quail for the Israelites in the wilderness. And on the night of the Last Supper, we have the story of the bread and wine that is for all to share in remembrance of Jesus.
Ancient methods of food preservation often took a long time and did not result in large quantities of preserved food. The fermentation technology used today is an improvement in food processing and preservation, guaranteeing the quantities of food that people need for survival.
Put 0.17 dry ounces (5 g) of yeast into the freezer bag and tape the pH strip on the perforated bag. Add 5 dry ounces (150 g) of grapes to the perforated bag and slide it into the other bag. Crush one grape to get enough juice to test the pH and record the reading. Close and squeeze all air out of the bags. Use your fingers to crush the grapes in the bag, mixing the juice with the yeast. Put the bags near a source of warmth and observe for an hour or so. What do you see? Some foam and gas should begin filling the bag as it begins to ferment. If you are checking the pH, check it again and record the result.
Debrief the science option with these questions:
•Humans have been using yeast since they started cooking. Knowing that we understand the chemistry involved, how is yeast a miracle and a blessing?
•Can you imagine life before refrigeration? What would you miss?
Option 3: Learning in Motion Option: Everybody Can Act
Divide the class into groups of three to eight. Each group will get a word list and must come up with a two- to three-minute skit that uses every word on the list. Give each group the same word list (keep that a secret) and give them time to prepare their skit. The word list could include manna, quail, Jesus, humans, bread, hunger, life, service, trust, compassion, and blessings. Encourage groups to be creative and use a sense of humor as they create the skits. They may want to model their skits on popular television shows, music, or actors. What was challenging, surprising, and fun about this? What new appreciation or insight do you have regarding the food-centered stories in the Bible?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week
This week, also have the prayer partners come up with a list of “daily bread” that they are thankful for
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
(Students share their “daily bread” lists here.)
Forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
And deliver us from evil.
(Students pray for their partners here.)
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
Now and forever,
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• What are some other miracles of Jesus that you remember?
• The part about the child offering his food is only in one of the Gospel descriptions of this story, not all four. Why do you think that is?
• What do you think the people in the crowd told their friends and families about this meal of bread and fish that they shared?
Turn to this week’s activity called “The Feeding of the 5000 Crossword.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• Why is it funny to imagine Jesus with a to-do list?
The idea that God would need an organizational device is pretty funny. When you look at the creation story, it does seem as if God is fairly methodical and strategic. Jesus accomplished a lot in his three years of ministry—maybe he did have a list.
• In addition to what’s listed in the cartoon, what else was on Jesus’ to-do list?
In addition to brainstorming other miracles and events from the Gospel accounts, you may want to discuss what Jesus came to earth to do. What’s the big theme behind everything Jesus did?
• With God’s help, how can we take on Jesus’ to-do list?
Challenge the students to consider: Can we cleanse lepers? How? Can we feed the multitude? How?
Student Book Connection
Here We Stand Student Book page 40: Read numbers 6 and 7 of “The Seven Funniest Bible Stories.” Although the stories are funny, they underline a basic principle that we do not always trust God to take care of us. In the first story, the disciples saw Jesus feed 5,000 people, but later they were worried when there was only a single loaf of bread for 13 people. Recall other biblical stories where people had a hard time trusting God, and then recall stories where people did trust God. Now have the students share a time when they had trouble trusting God.
Humans tend to be skeptical and have a mind-set of scarcity. Miracles reveal a God of abundance. Demonstrate a shift from scarcity to abundance with this activity. Ask the class: Can you make a hole in an index card big enough to step through?
Follow these instructions to demonstrate how you can. Before the lesson, assemble the supplies, read through the activity, and do a trial run. Prepare these supplies: an index card and a pair of scissors. You can find illustrated versions of this activity online.
1. Fold the index card in half the long way.
2. Hold the folder card horizontally with the folded side at the top. Cut two slits near the right and left edges of the card, each perpendicular to the fold. The cuts must come down from the folded half, not up from the unfolded edges. Be sure not to snip off the ends of the paper.
3. Cut off the folded edge from slit to slit.
4. Then, make about 40 cuts with your scissors. Alternate each cut, first coming down from the folded edge, and then coming up from the unfolded edges. The cuts should be parallel to the first slits you made.
5. Finally, open up the hole in the card. It should unfold kind of like an accordion. If you did it right, the hole is big enough for you to squeeze through!
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• How did God respond to human need with abundance in the Bible?
• How does God respond to human need with abundance today?
• What can you do to help others?
Pass a loaf of bread around the class—this could be the communion bread you baked as a class or any other kind of bread. Each person breaks off a piece of bread and passes it to their neighbor—don’t eat the bread until after the prayer.
Leader: God of abundance, we give you thanks for all our daily bread. We give you thanks for the blessing of having more than enough to share. Empower us to share what we have so that our gifts can be multiplied by you, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Invite everyone to eat the bread.
Before students leave, be sure to give each of them the following blessing as you trace the cross on their foreheads.
May the God who gives us all that we need, and more, bless you this day and always.