Then, there is another very simple lesson which I draw. This command suggests, for us, Christ’s thrift (if I may use the word) in the employment of His miraculous power.
Surely, they might have said: “If You can multiply five loaves into all this abundance, why should we be trudging about, each with a basket on his back full of bread when we have, with us, He whose word can make it for us at any moment?” Yes, but a law which characterizes all the miraculous, in both the Old and the New Testament, and which broadly distinguishes Christ’s miracles from all the false miracles of false religions is this, that the miraculous is pared down to the smallest possible amount, that not one hairsbreadth beyond the necessity shall be done by miracle, that whatever men can do they shall do, that their work shall stop as late and begin again as soon as possible. Thus, though Christ was going to raise Lazarus, men’s hands had to roll away the stone and, when Christ had raised Lazarus, men’s hands had to loose the napkins from his face. And, though Christ was able to say to the daughter of Jairus, Talitha cumi! (“Damsel, arise!”), His next word was, “Give her something to eat.” Where the miraculous was needed, it was used, and not a hairsbreadth beyond absolute necessity did it extend.
And so, here, Christ multiplies the bread, and yet, each of the apostles has to take a basket, probably some kind of woven wicker-work article which they would carry for holding their little necessaries in their peregrinations. Each apostle has to take his basket and, perhaps emptying it of some of his humble apparel, to fill it with these bits of bread, for Christ was not going to work miracles where men’s thrift and prudence could be employed.
Nor does He do so now. We live by faith, and our dependence on Him can never be too absolute. Only laziness sometimes dresses itself in the garb and speaks with the tongue of faith and pretends to be truthful, when it is only slothful. “Why do you cry to Me?” said God to Moses, “speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward.” True faith sets us to work. It is not to be perverted into idle and false depending upon Him to work for us when, by the use of our own ten fingers and our own brains, guided and strengthened by His working in us, we can do the work that is set before us. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on John 6.12.