It occurred to me as I was reading the story of the feeding of the five thousand in a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew that the fish the disciples got from the little boy, that would eventually become perhaps the largest single meal ever served, was probably not in the most tip top of conditions. From what I’ve read, cooked fish starts getting sketchy after about an hour un-refrigerated. Matthew records this:
Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
The Gospel of Mark runs a bit more detailed through the events leading up to this fateful feeding and it would seem that the crowd had been on the move for the better part of a day. Even if they only began at around midday to search and now it is evening, that means that this well meaning little boy has carted these 2 pieces of fish around for a few hours by even a conservative estimate. Have you held fish for very long? Let me assure you, if there are two things that will rob a fish of its appeal they are long periods of time and extensive handling. My point here is not to say that Jesus miraculously protected the 5,000 from food poisoning, though that might be true, the point is something far more personal.
We have tended to apply the lesson from this story like this: if you give what you have got Jesus can make much out of little. Now, that is a fine and appropriate application, not one that I would ever argue over. But, there is a subtle nuance here that perhaps adds to this lesson. Listen to NT Wright’s words here and let them sink in:
This is how it works whenever someone is close enough to Jesus to catch a glimpse of what he’s doing and how they could help. We blunder in with our ideas. We offer, uncomprehending, what little we have. Jesus takes ideas, loaves, and fishes, money, a sense of humor, time, energy, talents, love, artistic gifts, skill with words, quickness of eye or finger, whatever we have to offer. He holds them so they are ready for use, he gives them back to us to give to those who need them.
– NT Wright
What occurred to me as I was reading this story is the un-sanitized reality that Jesus, in His infinite wisdom and limitless resources, is largely unconcerned about the polish or brass of our outstretched hands, He is simply concerned with our willingness. I say this because there is a very good possibility that Jesus fed five thousand men, plus women and children, with fish that had gone bad. Perhaps I’m missing some historical detail here. Maybe the boy had a cooler and some ice, that sounds plausible for the 1st century. But maybe, just maybe, Jesus wasn’t even looking for the best fish money could buy, but a heart willing to give rotten fish for the kingdom of God.
I would encourage you today friends, don’t wait until you are the best cut of Mahi-Mahi, or a premium piece of Tuna steak before you hold out your hands and give Jesus exactly what you’ve got. You see, not only does the Master multiply what you give HIm, but He transforms and purifies it too. Maybe some of us fight with rotten areas of our life thinking the whole time that we need to become a “better cut” before Jesus can nourish anyone with us. But perhaps the reality is that we’ll never be the fish we want to be until we are willing to be served “as is”.