Why does Jesus “give thanks” before He distributes the bread?
And why do we “give thanks” before meals?
The first question is, for some, a difficult question, because if Jesus is God, is He praying and thanking Himself? That would be odd: “Dear Me, thank Me for all that I’ve done for Me.”
But while the second question might seem to have a simple answer, maybe it doesn’t. Christians are to pray. And Jesus “gave thanks” before certain meals, so we should, too.
But this really isn’t an example of understanding something or answering a question.
Like saying the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” or that the parables of Jesus are “earthly stories with heavenly meaning,” you’ve answered a question without answering a question.
Why does Jesus “give thanks” before He distributes the bread?
Why do we “give thanks” before meals?
If you say, “Because we’re supposed to pray” or “Because Jesus did,” you’re answering a question without actually answering the question.
If you need another example of what I mean, it’s like giving the answer, “I don’t care,” when you’re asked, “Where would you like to eat?” Or “Anything,” when asked “What would you like to watch?”
Jesus gives thanks—He prays—before this meal for the same reason that we do.
He prays—we pray before meals—because Christians are never in crisis-mode.
How many of you routinely—pretty much always—pray before meals? You should.
How many of you have ever had a hurried lunch—where you’ve got a lot to do or there’s a lot going on or you forgot about something important and the only thing you have time to eat is a microwavable pocket of boiling hot lava?
Did you still pray?
If you’re routine is to pray before meals, even when you’re rushed, even when the rest of your day is in crisis-mode, even then, you still pray.
Consider today’s Gospel lesson:
“A…large crowd was following [Jesus], because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. [He] went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples…Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’” (John 6:2-9).
The parallel accounts of this from the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, describe the place as “desolate.” We see quite plainly that the crowd’s in great need.
It’s a logistical nightmare to feed fifty people at a moment’s notice today—when we have more food than we know what to do with.
My dad’s taught me to make jokes at the most inopportune times, and so I have the bad habit of asking the new waitress if she has room for fifty people—who are in the parking lot right now and about to come in.
I think it’s a funny joke…I do.
But we treat feeding fifty people on a moment’s notice as a crisis.
Jesus puts his disciples to the test, saying to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5).
And Philip responds with must have been the look of a deer mesmerized by an oncoming semi: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7).
Fifty people are hard to feed without planning.
But several thousand? There’re about five-thousand men (cf. John 6:10), so we can reasonably expect the total to approach ten thousand as there would’ve been wives and children and whole families present.
Where do you buy bread for ten-thousand people?
Philip’s concerned, of course, with how to afford it?
Andrew, Peter’s brother, is distracted, rather, by the sheer impossibility of the need. He says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9).
To all of this unbelief, Jesus says, “Have the people sit down” (John 6:10), and what He really says is, “Have the people sit back. Lay down. Recline.”
You would only do this before a meal when you were about to be served. Having them “recline” is telling them to get ready—the first course is on its way.
“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11-12).
In the midst of impossible hunger and startling unbelief, Jesus directs the people to relax and be fed from His own hand.
He gives thanks to God, because there’s no such thing as a crisis.
Not only is God responsible for the bread and the fish, the rain and sun it took to grow the grain, and the worms and bugs it took to grow the fish, He also caused that patch of desolation to have grass enough for ten thousand people on that day and at that time, that they might recline more comfortably.
More than that, Andrew’s question “What are they for so many?” could be asked in another way: why would Jesus need that much to feed them all?
In the midst of hunger, Jesus takes a break, a pause, to thank God for the insignificant amount of food they have.
And then, He causes it to be distributed to the multitude such that they eat their fill and twelve baskets full of fragments are collected.
At this, Jesus says, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12). And in this we see what kind of Lord we have:
For Jesus, there’s no such thing as a crisis.
He prays, thanking God for what we all know looks insignificant.
And He sends His disciples out desiring that none would be lost.
That word—lost—is the same word from John chapter three where Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish [that is, should not be lost] but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Jesus sends His disciples to gather the fragments, that none would be lost.
That’s the kind of Lord you have.
Following Him looks, at times, like a crisis.
Hunger, pain, and desolation can be the cross He gives you to bear.
There might not be enough money in the world to fix your problems, and what is all you have for so many problems?
But into this, Jesus comes, speaking and giving peace. He has us sit, recline, relax. He prays, He takes His time. He teaches us to do the same.
And what He gives, insignificant though it may seem, fills us such that our cup runneth over.
We pray before meals for the same reasons—that we may know that God is the Lord, that our Lord is good, and that we will not be lost—no matter how it may look.
Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.
Rejoice, Jerusalem. Eat, and be satisfied.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen!
Laetare (Lent 4) Sermon, 2019
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt