"You give them something to eat" - "them" being 5,000 men plus women and children. Why would Jesus say that to his disciples? Surely he knew they had nothing.
Phillip responds as any clever man would respond - "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" (John 6:7) Phillip stops just shy of being disrespectful (as in, "What are you smoking, Jesus? Are you out of your mind?").
Then comes Andrew. Andrew is the sort of guy that has a qualifier after his name - Andrew, bless his heart - It's as if concessions are made for Andrew because he's, well, a little different. Andrew follows up Phillip's accurate and very logical assessment of the matter and says, "Hey - here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish!" (John 6:8-9) Andrew was either really dumb or a man of great faith (and if we were completely honest, we might concede that there is a fine line separating one from the other) to find a kid with the Middle Eastern version of a McDonald's Happy Meal and think he's well on his way to a solution. Optimistic, yes, but hardly practical.
John's account records that Jesus said this to test them, for "he already had in mind what he was going to do" (John 6:6). I think Jesus was looking for two responses from his disciples:
- An acknowledgement that they needed help, that they were not self-sufficient and couldn't do it on their own, and
- The offering of what little they did have and a trust that Jesus could somehow bless and use it.
"And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over." (Matthew 14:19-20)
The real miracle of this story is not that 5,000 people were fed; it is the miracle of offering what little we have - gifts, skills, possessions, time - and trusting that God can use it to make a difference in the world.