Feeding 5000

A blog by the Rev Liz Blythe

“[Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled…”

Matthew 14.19-20a

I don’t know what your breakfast table conversations usually sound like, but ours this morning (which was not at all unusual) involved discussing the Edinburgh Zoo, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Peppa Pig’s new neighbours (the Wolf family), and the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  (The last had the greatest share of the adult attention).

            In the perennial way of the Holy Spirit, this story has always frustrated Scott, while I’ve always loved it…well, mostly always.  I used to get really hung up on the logistics.  5,000 MEN, for starters!  Matthew adds on “besides women and children,” at least. There are 5 loaves and two fish for, perhaps 10,000 people.  There’s no way it would work, especially not if they all were to be fed and have leftovers!  I cannot quite get my head around Jesus being a conjurer, making bread spring forth from nothing – not because he couldn’t, but because he was not one for gimmicks.

            But then I heard another telling of it. 

            What if the miracle wasn’t that the bread and fish were physically multiplied.  What if the miracle is that the hearts of the members of the crowd were all turned from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance? 

            As a parent, I find it hard to believe that anyone would have left home that morning, with their kids, without some snacks in tow.  That’s especially true in a time when money was hardly in use and there weren’t convenience stores and cafes on every corner.  If a parent had anything, they’d throw something together – flour and water to make some flatbreads, anything – to take along.  You wouldn’t walk away from home without a plan for how to keep your children’s bellies full during the journey…unless you had absolutely nothing, as surely some did.

            So all these folks are milling about and Jesus says to the disciples, “group them and have them sit down.”  Now as a parent, I’d happily feed my family the snacks while milling about in a crowd…but not in front of other families who had none. 

            What if the miracle is that the crowd heard, I mean, actually HEARD Jesus, and his message and internalised it so that, when the wee boy (John 6.9) came forward with what his family had brought, and Jesus prayed over it, all the families who HAD brought something felt a willingness to share, rather than keeping it all to themselves?  What if everyone had enough because the families saw one another’s need and shared?

            Not only, then, would this be a miracle of scarcity mind-set being overcome by abundance-mindset, but also a miracle of seeing one’s neighbour and having compassion (I seem to remember something about that amongst Jesus’ teaching).

            How often have you heard the story of someone ignoring a situation until meeting someone affected by that situation?  Of bigotry being overcome by getting to know someone in the ‘other’ group?

            We can only really hang-on to the scarcity mind-set when we distance ourselves from the plight of others.

            Social Distancing has dealt a significant blow to all of us.  It has disrupted our daily lives and driven us away from seeing each other.  Yet, paradoxically, it has also united us.  We have had a common cause, and we have seen those who give to society – care home workers, hospital cleaner, grocery store clerks, etc. – and seen their value.

            The most pertinent question about the Feeding of the 10,000+ isn’t how it happened, but, rather, what happened next?  Did they continue to SEE their neighbours?  Did they continue from an abundance mindset?  What did all of those people do – the individuals, the families, the farmers and teachers and carers and community leaders – when they walked away?

            And now that our doors are opening, and we are allowed back into cafes and pubs and perhaps schools and office buildings, too, now that we have seen how little we really need and how much so many do for all of us, what will we do next?  How will we see the world?

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