The story of the feeding of the five thousand is so well known in scripture. All four gospels writers record it and they all mention details that the others leave out. If you are like me you love Bible details, especially in the life of Jesus.
‘When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over’ Luke 9v10-17
When reading this story again today I wondered; why are we only told how many men were eating and not how many people? Why did they pick up all the fragments afterwards? (Surely the birds could have eaten the leftovers.) But the one detail that stuck out most was; why did the people sit down in groups of 100’s and 50’s?
Jesus makes the disciples sit the crowd down on grass and separate them into groups of 50 (Mark says in groups of 100’s although it is more likely his version meant 100 groups of 50). Think about it. Before they were put into groups they looked like a mob but now they are separated into an organised collective of followers (hungry followers).
The view from the sky would show that the people were well organised but the view from the ground would have made the task seem even more enormous now. As they were divided up, the disciples or those of them who were quick with figures (Judas I suppose), would have worked out this meant only one loaf for every 20 groups of 50, only one fish for every 50 groups of 50. In my mind separating the people would have just made the whole situation look worse. Was this Jesus’ intention: to make the situation seem even more impossible? Was he trying to show the disciples that this would take a miracle and Jesus would have to be the source?
There may be many reasons why Jesus instructed them to get into groups of 50 and probably showing them the enormity of the task was on the Lord’s mind, and yet it is possible he was teaching them another lesson. It is very hard to give out food to a mob of hungry people; it would be much easier if they were seated in groups. You would need pathways and channels to be able to get the resources to everyone, and dividing the people up would provide this. So is it possible that while the Lord was showing the disciples the impossibility of the situation he was also teaching them that before the miracle takes place he required order, that the order would mean the miracles could be distributed better?
Order before miracles seems to be a theme in scripture. God asks us to prepare ourselves, order the camp and get ready for his miracles, so they can be distributed and reach everyone they are meant to. Sometimes God calls us to re-order our private lives not just to show us how far we have drifted but also to get us ready for a miracle. In this scene of the feeding of 5000 there would be no pushing, shoving and grabbing for bread or fish there would be enough and more for everyone but it would not be given to a mob but rather a prepared and organised people.
So Jesus gave the command put them in groups of 50! Order them to get ready the pathways for blessing. What is he asking us to order today? What is he asking us to prepare for? What do we need to set straight so we aren’t grabbing or striving for blessing? What do we need to do to ensure there are clear pathways made so he can pour out abundance and overflow? It is time to put things in order.