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John 6:5-14 So when Jesus went up into the hills and sat down with his disciples around him, he soon saw a great multitude of people climbing the hill, looking for him. Turning to Philip he asked, “Philip, where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” (He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.) Philip replied, “It would take a fortune to begin to do it!” Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a youngster here with five barley loaves and a couple of fish! But what good is that with all this mob?”“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus ordered. And all of them—the approximate count of the men only was five thousand—sat down on the grassy slopes. Then Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks to God and passed them out to the people. Afterwards he did the same with the fish. And everyone ate until full! “Now gather the scraps,” Jesus told his disciples, “so that nothing is wasted.” And twelve baskets were filled with the leftovers! When the people realized what a great miracle had happened, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!”
Jesus + 5 loaves + 2 fish = lunch for thousands
All of Jesus’ miracles exceeded expectation and imagination of all involved in them nearly 2,000 years ago. And they can do the same for us today, if we choose to stop and consider them. To this soil scientist, the miracles become even more lovely the closer we press in and examine them, especially in the numbers. The numbers can tell us a beautiful story in their simplicity and power. So let’s take a few minutes and run the numbers on this miracle found in John 6 and be swept away in amazement!
Other versions of John 6:5-14 state that 5,000 men were present in this multitude. With that knowledge and the assumption that women and children were also present but uncounted, we’re deriving a close and conservative estimate of 10,000 people in the multitude. (A valid estimate could be upwards of 20,000 people, according to multiple commentators.)
So if lunch for 1 child = 5 loaves + 2 fishes then the following could also be valid and conservative estimates:
Lunch for 1 man = 10 loaves + 4 fish
Lunch for 1 woman = 7 loaves + 3 fish
Then the minimum requirement to feed the lunch to the multitude of 10,000 people* = 120,000 loaves + 50,000 fish
Yet even that wasn’t enough for Jesus – all of the multitude ate until full and twelve baskets were filled with the leftovers. Let’s stop for a minute and revel in that glorious provision for a minute – with the culture and socioeconomic standing of many who were in the multitude, here’s a valid question: Could this have been the first time (or at least in a very long time) that many of these people ate until full? Especially the women and children who usually ate what was left after the men finished. On that day their lunch bags didn’t have limits, only their stomachs. And there were leftovers! We don’t know the basket sizes but if they were using likely choices of fishing vessel baskets or market baskets, these baskets could’ve been on the very large size. 12 baskets = 1 basket per disciple – was this extra food for them and their families? or others they would meet along the way that day? Tangible evidence that Jesus knew them and their needs, just as He does for us today. Scripture doesn’t answer these questions but we do know this truth.
Nothing was wasted. No one was overlooked or ignored. Everyone was seen, provided for, and cherished. All the while, the disciples were learning another valuable lesson in the doing – that’s classic Jesus, right there, isn’t it?
Exceeding hopes, expectations, and imaginations – Jesus did it then and He’s still doing it now and shows no sign of stopping! Hallelujah for miracles!
But there’s more – let’s keep pulling back the layers and exploring the wondrous.
With maximum yield assumptions for barley production per acre and fish harvesting per acre (at today’s production rates), here’s what it would’ve required to feed the multitude this amazing lunch:
30,000 pounds of barley = 10.41 acres of prime farmland for growing this barley
12.5 tons of fish = 16 acres of healthy maximum-stocked lake for supporting these fish
These numbers are the minimums required for today’s maximum production rates. And if you consider that today’s rates can easily be 10-20 times the maximum production rates for Jesus’ day – wow is an understatement. These numbers are mind-blowing for today, much less incomprehensible for then.
Even to scientists or mathematicians, numbers like these can’t be explained, only explored. But the beauty of the numbers doesn’t begin to compare to the tangible data of a miracle of full bellies and full hearts of those thousands who came empty and left with plenty.
Only Jesus can take little and make much in and of it.
Only Jesus can take the little of this soil scientist’s lunch, longings, and life and make the far more than I can know, ponder, or imagine. The tangible evidence of this blog and this year’s books** are miracles I never dared ask for, much less saw coming. Thank You, Jesus, for this and the oh-so-much-more I don’t even recognize or take the time to see!
The much more of the breath in my lungs and the thoughts in my mind, the soil under my feet and in my soul, the family and friends here and far away, the opportunities set before and the courage to pursue them, and the oh-so-much-more I haven’t even seen yet! And those are just the miracles I’ve stopped to consider – how many more do I not even know about? The viruses, diseases, or infections prevented; the accidents or intentions thwarted; the prayers initiated and poured out on my behalf; the strength, hope, joy, or faith given to stand in the now and take the next step into the not-yet; the prayers answered with a no or wait; the tears and sorrow gathered up by You as You stood alongside in the pain; the coming new heaven and new earth – the oh-so-much-more of the miracle of life Jesus gave at the Cross and gives each and every day!
Ephesians 3:20-21 With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or think of. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever. Amen
Dear Father God:
Thank You that You do the miraculous every day with every one of us! The breath in our lungs, the words on our lips – You know them before and give them along with beautiful sunrises, sunsets, flowers, people, lands, and the joy to delight in them! Thank You for the amazing wonders of mercy, forgiveness, grace, righteousness, and eternal life. Please help me to stop and revel in the miracles and to be exceedingly grateful for them. Please help me to delight myself in You knowing that You alone will give the desires of my heart, even when I don’t know what they are.
In the strong Name of Jesus,
*any mistakes in calculations are entirely my fault – thanks for your patience and understanding with me!
**stay tuned – more information on the books coming this year will be posted here on the blog soon! I’m so excited and grateful for you and your support in this venture! Thanks be to God for each and every one of you!!
Written by and copyrighted to Beth Madison, Ph.D., 2021.
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