Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
The other day, a few of us were gathering around a friend who had a trick to show us. Each of us wanted a clear view and we tried to position ourselves accordingly. For a few minutes, our attention was riveted. With a coin in one hand, and another coin in the other, our eyes were fixed on the hands.
Before we knew it, the slight-of-hand was accomplished; the coins were transported and amazement overcame us. Disbelief was suspended and we had been tricked!
Chided into repeating the trick, our scrutiny could not reduce amazement to understanding.
The familiar story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand has amazed many in much the same way. Disbelief suspended, focus is fixed on the loaves and fish. And before you know it, twelve baskets of leftovers have been collected! Wow! That's impressive! Magic termed miracle.
I've read the passage before, many times. And all of us have listened to it with appropriate devotion. Unquestionably, it is one of the more familiar and perhaps one of the more spectacular of Jesus' miracles. The crowd, the loaves, and the fish. With a careful eye to the details, disbelief is suspended.
I'm tired of the suggestion that this is no miracle here. The argument goes that the crowd simply shared what they had at hand. Miracle rationalized.
On the one hand, Jesus' intervention is reduced to the spectacular; on the other, Jesus did little more than place his confidence in the generosity of the crowd and demonstrate his confidence in their self-reliance.
What is needed is miracle recognized.
The five thousand overwhelms us and we are awe-struck. That, we convince ourselves, is the matrix of the event: the five thousand men and the women and children who swell their numbers.
But the miraculous is confined to a small number, a much smaller number.
Struck by the apparent extravagance of the crowd, the seeming slight-of-hand beguiles us and diverts our attention from the miracle.
Jesus' conversation reveals the miracle. "They need not go away; you give them something to eat," Jesus told the desperate disciples. His words were not addressed to the assembly. He addressed the disciples. Disciples who wanted to dismiss the crowd. They had seen the need of the crowd and felt inadequate to meeting that need. Their advice to Jesus had been an abdication, albeit reasonable in light of their available resources.
"You give them something to eat," challenged Jesus. He didn't assume the responsibility. He didn't rush to the solution, assuring the disciples that he'd look after everything for them.
Their proffering of a few loaves and fewer fish didn't dissuade him.
Matthew tells us that, taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves.
A blessing and a breaking of bread. Familiar words and familiar action.
"Blessed be Thou, O Lord our God, eternal King, Who brings forth bread from the earth." And as powerfully as the sea was divided by the confident gesture of Moses, so bread broken opens a path reminiscent of the promise and provision of God.
Anchored in the blessing of God for His provision, the disciples are encouraged to distribute to the need before them. And there grace is sufficient to meet this need. Did each one hunger for more? Each received enough: and, revealed in the motif of our gathering as a community, bread broken still and blessing said -- each one's need is recognized and met.
Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine