August 6, 2017
By Lucy Reid
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowd. And all ate and were filled…. about 5000 men, besides women and children.
Wait! – this is the miracle known as the feeding of the 5000, but that’s not counting the women and children who were there. It’s a patriarchal head-count. Assuming the women and children ate as well, surely this would be the feeding of at least the 10,000. How do you feed 10,000 people with five loaves and two fish?
There are different ways to approach this story. One way is simply to see it as a miracle that proves Jesus was divine and so he could alter the laws of the universe at will. So he broke and broke and broke the loaves and fishes, and handed them out, but the pieces never got too small and ran out.
Another way is to look for a rational explanation behind it. I read a theory that Jesus had pre-planned this, and was standing in front of a cave he’d filled with a great supply of bread and fish earlier. Another explanation is that as he and disciples shared what they had, it inspired others to share what they’d brought along. So it was a communal picnic, like a big parish pot-luck.
A third way to look at this is not as a supernatural miracle, nor as something with a rational explanation, but as a spiritual story with a deeper meaning contained within it. Almost like a parable, rather than reportage of an event. It’s a story of hungry people being met with compassion and goodness. It reveals Jesus as the one who can fill our deep hunger – and that’s not about calories and grumbling stomachs, it’s about the emptiness and longing in our souls.
The image of our hunger being fed by God’s goodness runs right through the Bible:
- Manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16)
- You spread a table before me (Psalm 21)
- Come and buy wine and milk without price (Isaiah 55)
- The kingdom of heaven is like a banquet (Matthew 22 et al.)
- Take, eat, this is my body (Matthew 26)
We have a small act of eating and drinking at the heart of our worship week by week, because it’s such a powerful symbol of how God feeds our souls, nourishes our lives, meets our hunger with compassion and grace.
Yet we often look to satisfying our hunger through other things: material possessions (and the act of acquiring something apparently releases a shot of feel-good hormones into the brain, so it comforts our inner hunger for a while), or consuming food, drink, drugs, or being busy and surrounded with people so our hunger is blotted out, or being successful and achieving power. But those are all things on the outside. They still don’t reach the spiritual hunger that’s deep inside.
Sooner or later, we have to step away from all that, and go to a quiet, vulnerable place inside, where we can acknowledge our hunger, or pain, or grief, and bring it to God. It’s an act of trust – or sometimes desperation – because we aren’t always sure God is there, or cares, or will respond to us. But the gospel of Jesus is that God does care, God is with us, God loves us unconditionally and calls us to abundant life.
Like the crowds in the gospel, we’re following Jesus because there’s something about him that’s life-giving. We might not even be sure what it is, but we keep coming here, we keep listening. And like the crowds out in that deserted place, and like the disciples, we hunger and thirst, we feel we don’t have enough, we worry. And then we’re met with compassion and care. We’re invited to share a meal, and there’s enough for everyone.
The collect for this week prays:
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom. Renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.