Mark 6:41a, 44
"Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves… The number of men [and women] who had eaten was five thousand."
Dwight Lee Wolter
Believing that Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish is one of the reasons why people think Christians are crazy. I heard one minister explain away this story saying that people took itsy bitsy pieces and . . . voila! . . . everyone received one or two molecules of food and so, technically, it was a feeding!
Entering a church for the first time at age 34, I did not need the miracle stories explained away. I was fascinated with this faith tradition that - knowing they appeared nuts to much of the world--told startling stories about healing lepers, cripples, and demoniacs; curing blindness, vanquishing storms and raising people from the dead! I was drawn to these stories and to Jesus the way a flower is drawn to the sun. Maybe this Jesus could even quell the storm in me and feed my malnourished soul in a time of spiritual doubt and drought. I didn’t need a miracle explained; I needed one enacted.
I also loved the non-miraculous aspects of this story: Jesus saying, "Come away to a deserted place… and rest a while," but when he arrived, there they were - the sick, lonely, diseased, hungry, addicted - all reeking of unmet needs. Even with his mini-vacation ruined, "he had compassion for them..." His disciples suggested he send the people away to buy something to eat. Jesus said, "You give them something to eat." Wait! We do that at our church pantry and soup kitchen where, in 28 years, we have fed over 100,000 people. No miracle there. We simply "had compassion for them" and did something about it.
Jesus also asked the people to sit and eat "in groups." You know what happens when people gather in groups. They talk, laugh, break bread and tell stories. Perhaps that was the true miracle: people coming to Jesus as individuals but staying as groups. Maybe then Jesus could finally rest, knowing that along with the meal, people had taken his Spirit deep within them where he would nourish their souls forever in the ordinary experiences of their everyday lives.
Dwight Lee Wolter is the author of Forgiving Our Parents, Freedom Through Forgiving (a workbook), and Forgiving Our Grownup Children. He is pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York.