When evening came, his students came and said to him, “This is a remote place, and it’s getting late. Send them away so they can go back to civilization, and in the villages they can buy something for themselves to eat.”
He said, “You give them something to eat.”
“Feeding all these people is going to cost over $10,000,” they said. “You want us to spend that kind of money on food for them?”
He said, “How many loaves do you have? Go check.”
They went and counted. “We have five, and two fish.”
Then Jesus told them to get all the people to sit down in the green grass in groups. So they all sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, looked to heaven, and then broke the bread into pieces. He gave them to his students, to distribute to the people. Then he divided the fish among them all, too.
Everyone ate until they were full, five thousand men in all. When the students collected the leftovers, there were twelve baskets of pieces of bread and fish.
There’s little mistaking that Jesus has just formed his own legion: five thousand men, divided into hundreds and fifties. Legions, like any military presence, were expensive. Well over $10,000 a day just for food. An army marches on its stomach, then and now.
The little detail about the green grass, a reference to Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd… he makes me lie down in green grass… he prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies…”), makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is throwing down a challenge to the Roman imperial occupation.
- Whereas the Roman legions were paid for and fed by reducing the people of the occupied land to poverty, Jesus’ legion was about feeding those who had been impoverished by the occupation.
- Whereas the Roman legions were routinely sent into the countryside and villages to take what food they needed, Jesus’ refuses to send his legion out to pillage and terrorize the people.
What does this mean for people like you and me? Start by asking yourself, whose legion are you a part of? What groups do you belong to? Are those groups about extracting resources or multiplying resources? Or, if you’re in the position of leading a group, where are you really taking them?
“How many loaves and fishes do you have? Go check.”
[Bonus: Think about it. Psalm 23 was never intended to be read at funerals, it’s a declaration of defiance and resistance.]