A little sleight-of-hand can give this familiar story the punch it had the first time, and it’s very simple to do.
You will need:
- An opaque lunch box or bag
- A paper napkin
- Some bread (rolls or slices)
Hide most of the bread under the napkin in the lunchbox. On top, have enough bread to give tiny morsels to your audience. Perhaps half a slice of bread.
Tell the story and bring out the lunch box as the boy is mentioned. Show the bread and explain that there are not 5000 of us like Jesus had (or more like 20,000 if we count the women and children) so we are just using a little bread. That will be enough for us all, won’t it? (No, not really.)
Start giving out tiny pieces of bread, until half of the slice is gone. Then move the remains to the lunch box (on pretext of needing a hand for something else) and give out bread from the hidden supply under the napkin. Give out bigger and bigger pieces as the story continues, until you are giveing out huge chunks. By this time everyone should be wondering how such a small amount of bread went so far!
You can explain afterwards how you did your trick and emphasise that Jesus did not have a secret stash of bread. He did a miracle because he is God.
Make speedy salt-dough bread and fish. Why not let adults do this too – craft is not just for kids!
This microwave salt-dough recipe will dry in seconds instead of the usual hours or days. If you have time, children can mix it themselves. Adults should do the cooking.
You will need:
- Plain flour
- Water to mix
- Paper plates
- Microwave oven
- Tools for shaping (eg teaspoons, pencils)
Use flour to salt in 2:1 ratio by volume (eg 2 mugs of flour and 1 mug of salt) and add water until the mixture forms a ball. If it is sticky, add a little more flour. You can add powder paint colour if you want, or liquid paint in place of some water. Beware of stains if you use paints.
You can do this activity in pews if you like, with a small ball of dough on a paper plate. When you have made your items, put them on (named) paper plates and microwave them in 10-second increments until they are dry and hard. You can paint your models or varnish them if you want to keep them (salt dough doesn’t survive getting wet).
Ideas for what to make:
Sardine sandwiches: Roll or press out a flat dough square and cut it into two triangles. Roll the leftovers into fish shapes and make a sandwich to remind you of the story.
Fish bowl: Cut a fish shape out of flat dough and mark fins etc. Place it in a small bowl or cupcake case while cooking to hold its shape.
Keyring/ bag dangler: Make a bloomer-style loaf or a fat fish with a hole going through it. Varnish when dry and thread a cord or keyring through the hole.
Paperweight: Make a large loaf and inscribe “I am the bread of life” on it. Varnish after cooking.
Tea-light holder: Mould some dough around a tea-light then form it into a fish or a loaf of bread. Remove the tea-light for cooking.
Beads (for necklace / bracelet / keyring / bag dangler): Shape chunky fish and bread beads around a wooden barbeque skewer. Make more than you need in case some break. Paint or varnish them when dry.
This is one of the very few events mentioned in all four Gospels, so I guess it’s important. It’s also one of the best-known, and that can mean we skim past it. “Yep. Feeding of the five thousand. Got it.”
It’s often difficult to read familiar passages like the first time, as if we had not read to the end of the chapter. And that can mean we miss the punch. Put yourself among the disciples as we hear what people said.
“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
Jesus is good at mentioning the elephant in the room. Some 20,000 people are on their way, and they don’t seem to have brought their pack-up.
But surely this isn’t our problem? Jesus has already done loads for these people. They can just go into the surrounding villages and buy food if they are hungry. This is ‘me’ time for Jesus and for us. Work-life balance and all that.
We already have a head start on the crowd. We could just leg it round the hill and get away for some much-needed peace. Phillip speaks up. You can hear the frustration in his voice.
“It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
He’s right. There’s no way we can do this. Why is Jesus even suggesting it? The need is too great. It’s far beyond our ability. Is he expecting us to magic food out of the air?
Andrew pipes up next. He’s found a lad and his lunch box.
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
It’s pathetic, isn’t it?
You know, we could have just pretended we didn’t see, but now Jesus has mentioned it we’ve got to do something about it, and I just can’t. I don’t know what Jesus wants of me but I know I can’t do it.
Who am I to think I can serve God? What do I have to offer? Look at my resources. 100 metres front crawl, big fan of Star Trek, and a good recipe for mushroom lasagne.
And God says, “Thanks, that’ll do nicely.”
“Have the people sit down.”
It would be so much easier if Jesus would tell us what he’s up to. Why couldn’t he say right at the start, “It’ll be OK, you’ll see. This is how it will all work …”
Mind you, would we believe him if he did? Maybe it’s better to just know the next step.
“Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”
Yep. I was right. We would not have believed it.
I wish I could have offered my lunch to Jesus. I feel a bit bad now, ‘cos we all ate our sandwiches on the way over here.
What? Have you never wondered where the 12 baskets came from?
John 6:1-21 New International Version
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
New International Version
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Uncredited illustration from old book of Bible Stories, copyright free.