The appearance of five barley loaves and two fish in the wilderness harkens back to Elisha purifying a poisonous stew. After Elisha purified the stew, a man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
In Second Kings chapter four it was a man from Baal-shalishah. In John chapter six it is a child, but not an ordinary child. The child is a παιδάριον. The word means “little child” and it is a derivative from the word that describes how someone is being reared and educated to be an ideal member of the city. In Greek culture, one who is trained in παιδεία would possess intellectual, moral, and physical refinement. They received what we would call today a liberal arts education, not to mention training in wrestling and gymnastics. You might say a παιδάριον is a well-rounded individual physically, morally, and spiritually.
John knew what he was doing when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he used that term for a young child. There are other words he could have used, but this one is a perfect fit. The young child, perhaps with his parents, is prepared for the inevitable. You go into the wilderness following Jesus. The crowd had been there for some time. They needed refreshment else they go hungry. That is why Jesus asks the loaded question, Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?
The excuses come flying. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” Sounds a lot like the excuse in Second Kings chapter four: How can I set this before a hundred men? There Elisha already said what he intended to do: Give to the men, that they may eat. Andrew brings the lad to Jesus, but even he has an excuse: What are they for so many?
The disciples are caught unprepared. Woe to you when you are unprepared! A friend of mine likes to say, “I wouldn’t tie my shoes without a backup plan.” Yet you tie your shoes every day and are still unprepared for what could happen. You love to sing and talk about God’s providential care, yet when that care is late you change your tune and tone. There’s not enough money. There are not enough resources. It’s too far to buy what you need. It’s too late in the day to go buy what you need. You are not prepared, even though you think you have everything figured out.
King David writes in Psalm 122, I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Here you are, and you’re still not as prepared as you could be. You can read the Psalms all you want before the start of the service, you can make a spiritual inventory to prepare for the forgiveness of sins, and you can even fast, pray, and give alms all you want. Yet when those words fall from David’s pen about being glad to enter God’s house, you’re still not prepared. Your nature is sinful. Your thoughts are elsewhere. Your concentration lags. You’ll be thinking about lunch or supper. You’ll be counting the minutes until the sermon ends. The silent inner monologue playing in your head never stops, especially when the hour of giving the Gifts arrives.
What is the big deal about words, water, bread, wine, a man dressed in fancy vestments, and a simply adorned church building? Jesus uses these humble things from His Father’s creation to do wonderful things. He catches you unprepared for His providence and His spiritual care, but in being caught He still provides, forgives, and strengthens you. Elisha says concerning the bread of the firstfruits, Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.” The Lord is never slack in His promises. He keeps His perfect record intact as twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain are enough to satisfy a hundred men with some left.
The little child, the learner who is prepared for whatever may come, teaches the adults something about being prepared. Andrew’s bringing the boy to Jesus seems like a million to one shot, but Jesus himself knew what he would do. The boy is in the right place at the right time with the right amount of what is needed. 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. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
If Jesus can do that for five thousand men, what more can He do for you, O you of little faith! The refreshment Jesus provides for you here pales in comparison to what we will hear Him do over the next few weeks. Jesus provides everlasting refreshment as He gives you His perfect righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, while taking on your sin, death, and hell. Jesus bears all this willingly for you.
Jesus is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world. He comes not only to speak peace from our heavenly Father, He also comes to make that peace for you. Only He is able to climb the mountain to make the ultimate Passover sacrifice for your salvation. Only He prepares you for eternal life in hearing His Word of forgiveness, being washed in the baptismal water of forgiveness, and being fed with His Body and Blood for forgiveness.
You remain a παιδάριον until life everlasting, always learning what He provides for you, both earthly and spiritually, is a good gift from a gracious, generous, and giving God.
Hence, all fear and sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.