Posts Tagged ‘miracle’

What to do with 5 loaves and 2 fish?

In my family, I’m always known as the one who can be counted on to pack enough food. I’ve been on trips where I’ve packed entire meals into my purse – my friends call it the feed bag – so that I wouldn’t have to worry about whether (or where) we’d be eating. I remember an important moment in one of my greatest friendships, April, a dear friend I roomed with on a trip to India in 2008. We’d been traveling all day in the heat, and someone asked if there was any food on the bus. April and I simultaneously started listing all of the things we had in our bags – Beef jerky! Snickers! Almonds! Trail mix! Peanut butter! – and the bus went silent. We realized we were soul sisters – the ones who would bring the food. Sometimes, though, I forget.
Have you ever gone on a trip and not packed enough food?
I remember another time when my dad took my baby brothers and I on a car trip to Montana. We always hiked together, and my dad was pretty good about bringing things so that we would be safe. This day, we got out of the car because we saw a trail we wanted to hike, got the back pack with the poncho, the safety gear, and the sunscreen, and started to hike the back trails outside of Big Sky. It was a really good hike – lots to see, hard trails, wildlife. But at one point, about an hour in, my youngest brother Lex asked Dad – as he usually would – “Can I have some water?” And Dad cracked open the pack, pulled out the canteen, and I remember the look on his face when he realized… it was light. It wasn’t full. He dug frantically into the pack again – one chocolate bar and a bag of granola. Not enough for all four of us, and no fresh water in sight. So we each got a sip to keep us going, a bite to refresh us… and we headed back the way we came.
So what is it about this scripture we read, Matthew’s loaves and fishes miracle? This is the only miracle story recounted in all four gospels.
When this sort of thing happens in Scripture, it means it’s of unusual importance – it’s like the biblical authors are saying, “That was so important, I’m going to repeat myself.”
First of all, you should know, this story happened once already in the Hebrew Bible – what we sometimes call our Old Testament. It parallels Elisha’s in II Kings 4:42-44. So this is an old pattern – God feeds his people in strange circumstances, through a prophetic leader.
So Jesus has just been rejected in Nazareth. He’s just watched his cousin and friend John the Baptist – a bit more of a fire-brand than Jesus – get his head chopped off for speaking truth to power. He’s had a very, very bad month. A sad month. He needs to recharge, to find his direction again. So he heads out to the wilderness. Away from the people crowding for his attention. But they follow him. I’ll don’t know about you, there’s a particular feeling you get when you think, FINALLY, I’m going to get some peace and quiet! Time to think! But he looks up, and there they are again. Matthew says this is the story of the 5,000, but the actual words are “5,000 men, besides women and children.” What we should know is that this means, in that time, about 20,000 people. Families.
And he sees these people, not famous, not rich, many ill, poor, uncertain, but hungry for words of power and sustaining bread… and his heart feels for them. The scripture says he has compassion – and this means he feels with them. He teaches them, gives them what they’re looking for, which is the power they feel coming from him, the possibility and the hope they need. He sits with them. But then night falls, and the disciples sidle up and let him know the crowds are starting to murmer about being hungry after a long day. I imagine the disciples themselves were pretty exhausted, pretty hungry. They suggest Jesus send the crowds home. Now, something you should know about the wilds outside of the towns there – there wouldn’t have beeen anywhere to go. They were, like my hiking trip, stuck. Either those people were going back hungry to fend for themselves without much of a plan, or they were going to be fed right there in the middle of the desert. Not a lot of choices.
He’s in a pretty vulnerable spot – Jesus’ ego, if he were one of us, might have been sorely tempted to feel better – This could take Jesus to a new opportunity to “turn stones into bread” as the Devil challenged him to do in the Temptation (4:2). Just get it over with! A hungry crowd, a wilderness place, fed with food from nowhere. The public seeks him out, follows like Ancient Near East paparazzi. He has the power. It would have been hard to resist.
The problem is, the disciples make a bit of a mistake. They should know this Jesus better by now. What do they say? “We have nothing here, but 5 loaves and 2 fish.” So they don’t tell a whole truth. They say they have nothing, but they do. The disciples clearly thought they had not nearly enough (v. 17). It was small, but it wasn’t nothing. They just don’t want to share. Which makes sense, right? What do you do when you have 5 loaves and 2 fish?
Jesus has the answer ready – he tells them to bring them. They dig into their travel packs and hand the fish and bread over to him. I can only imagine their faces. Were they curious? Or sheepish? Upset?
He looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the bread and returns the now holy food to his followers. Who then give them to the crowds. They probably watched and thought – oh, don’t take too much! Oh…. No! that one over there!
And they do it, and – this is the important part – ALL WERE FILLED. Unlike my story of hiking, where we had a bit of water and candy and got just enough to make it back to camp, these little bits of fish and crumbs truly FED the people. All of them. All ate and were filled, and they took in EXTRA.
So this story shouldn’t be called “Jesus Feeds the 5,000” after all. Jesus only feeds the 12. The 12 feed the 5,000, or the 20,000, if we count the invisible women and children.
The scripture says there were 12 baskets left over. Now, that may seem like a lot – 12 baskets out of those tiny servings??? But think about this – have you ever had a family reunion? What happens? There’s always a ton of food left over. People have to take home plates. No matter what. 20,000 people, and there end up with just12 baskets left over – this is a miracle of stewardship, as much as feeding. It’s like Jesus had a family reunion, and all that was left over was one pack of hotdogs.
Everyone got exactly what they needed, and there was enough. A small margin of error, and enough. Any more would have been a waste.
Now, in order to take this story seriously… we need to chat a bit about what it means that this is part of our Scriptures.
Interpretations vary. The most common ones are that Jesus and the generosity of the disciples moved the people to share so that all were fed. Basically – people had secret food they weren’t telling about.
That it was only a symbolic and spiritual feeding. (though verse 20 implies physical satiety, not spiritual.
That this was a truly powerful and miraculous experience for those involved, so shocking that all of the gospels felt the need to share it.
Hard to tell – obviously a supernatural event being reported, so must look theologically.
I wonder if it really matters how this happened. What is crucial is the message that Jesus shares in this story through his actions and his words: God will provide God’s people when they are hurting, and wandering in the desert, and trying to be faithful. With a little to spare – and perhaps with the simple things – , but there must be no greed or waste, or some will go hungry. Psalm 78:19 asks “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” This story, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, 11 Kings, and everywhere else it’s told answers with a resounding “Yes!”
“What do you do when what you’ve got is 5 loaves and 2 fish?” You simply remember:
God is love (compassion shown through Jesus)
Disciples have been given an awesome responsibility to be the body of Christ through concrete acts of love and justice. – Christ. As Elisha performed this through his servant, Jesus enlists the disciples – called to be God’s instruments in meeting the needs of others
When we need it most, God will give us the power to work for good in the world. Holy Spirit. God uses what we bring.
God’s will is that hungry people be fed. What are the loaves and fish you will share?