John 6:5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
The feeding of the five-thousand is found in all four of the Gospels. Obviously it was an incident that had a profound effect on the disciples themselves. It was to be a test of their faith and in this scripture the author spells it out...that Jesus did this to test Philip.
Philip is the logical one who is constantly thinking things through. He would be the one to ask because he was from the nearby town and would have known what kinds of resources were in the area. He quickly begins to compute all the possible answers to Jesus’ question. He wants to find the answer but he knows that, even if he could find people who would sell him food, he would need cash and then looking over the crowd he realized it would take a whole year’s worth of wages to pay for it all. His logical mind was coming to the conclusion that this simply wasn’t possible.
Andrew, the helper, not wanting to give up begins to scan the crowd for another option. Maybe there are enough people with food that they would be willing to share, but his search results in a boy with some bread and fish — small fish — probably something like sardines! This wasn’t much to go on and by now Philip has determined that the situation is hopeless.
This is just where Jesus wants Philip to be — at the end of his own personal resources. It’s reminiscent of Moses speaking with the LORD in the burning bush. Moses is asked, “What is that in your hand?” — and there is his staff. The staff was the symbol of Moses’ on self-sufficiency, everything that Moses knew how to do well. God tells him to throw it down and in that moment it becomes an instrument of divine intervention. In the very moment that Philip recognizes that he cannot solve the problem of the food for the people present Jesus is able to perform his miracle which is not just about food, but that the eyes of the disciples would be opened to his divinity. This was the test of Philip’s faith.
Our faith is often tested by the situations in which we find ourselves and it may be in that place that God is trying to teach us more about him and his nature. We can find ourselves in the middle of the test along with the disciples. We may also have similar responses.
I tend to be rather analytical and my brain can begin trying to work out every single scenario for a particular situation. I think, in that regard I can relate to Philip. He’s thinking about all the places he knows in town that would be willing to sell food. He probably had that all figured out and then began to calculate the cost. Part way through that exercise he realized the numbers were getting to be far too big and there would be no way that he could come up with all that money. The problem was bigger than what his mind could solve.
There will be problems that we confront that are larger than our human minds can solve. We look at the immediate resources. We think about what it is that we know — Philip knew the town and what they could provide. While he knew it all well, he also knew its limitations. The people of Bethsaida could not feed all of these people. He felt hopeless and we find ourselves feeling hopeless when we can’t find the answer within our own comfort zone. It’s hard to imagine that God would go outside of the way in which we’ve always understood things to be done, and yet that is exactly what God wants to do.
Philip began to calculate the cost — and so do we. Our mind does the mental math on what God may be challenging us to do and we come up short. It just doesn’t work out at the end of the pencil and yet, God is asking us to do it! Jesus was asking Philip to help feed 5000 people. Philip couldn’t figure out how that was going to be accomplished.
God may be asking us to participate in something much larger than ourselves and we can’t figure out how that’s supposed to be done. That’s the beauty of the story. The test of Philip’s faith is the test of our faith. God wants us to do things that are far beyond our own capability and it is only when we realize we can’t do it — that he can!
What is the symbol of our own self-sufficiency? For Moses it was a staff, for Philip it was his ability to calculate and manage. They had to be willing to let go of their own abilities and resources in order to trust God for the extraordinary. God is still in the business of the extraordinary, if only we will trust in him. This is the test of our faith.
Lord, please help me to let go of my own self limiting view of what you can accomplish. Amen.
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