Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
When reading today’s passage I was reminded of something the prophet Isaiah had said a long time ago. It seems confusing, but when seen in the light of today’s story it makes sense. Isaiah said, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:1-2).
“You who have no money, come buy and eat.” That sounds like a paradox: How do you buy anything without money? But that’s exactly the point. What Jesus offers cannot be bought. In our story today, he feeds thousands of people food, and they don’t have to pay for it because Jesus provides. There are no limitations on what they can eat, either, because it is available in plenty, and when they are done eating to their hearts content, there is still plenty left over.
This story has an even greater significance when you realize this is true of our salvation. Some of us imagine, like the Pharisees did, that we can work our way into heaven. But, as Paul says, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). No matter how rich we might imagine we are, in truth we are all paupers; spiritually bankrupt people. God, however, provides us with the bread of life at no cost.
And he also provides waters—in plural! He says to those who are thirsty: “Come to the waters”. Water is needed for life; in its plural form it indicates an abundance of it. But then he adds even to this, offering wine and milk, which serve to cheer, nourish, and strengthen. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of a landowner who has a bountiful crop (see yesterday’s reflection). Delighted, he decided to build barns to store his grain, while he planned an early retirement which he would spend on eating, drinking and making merry.
God told him this life was going to end that night: who were the barns he was building for? We spend so much of time and effort on securing our happiness here in this life, while neglecting what follows in the next. This is remarkably short-sighted and foolish. Let us go to Jesus today for the eternal future that he provides. “Your Father.” Jesus said, “has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
You who have no money, come buy and eat!