I’m not sure if now is the best time or the worst time to hear the story of Jesus feeding the multitude.
In the days of the pandemic, there are limits on the number of people who can gather in one place, even outside. There are way too many people simply ignoring that, but I doubt Jesus would be one of them. At the very least, he would have limited the size of the gathering, handed out masks and sanitizer and ensured that everyone was appropriately physical distancing. Not sure how he would have fed everyone, but I’m sure he would have found a way and it would have met recommended guidelines. Even then, it would have been far less than a multitude, so would that have made it less of a miracle?
On the other hand, because of the pandemic a lot of people are hungry and need to be fed and there are some very worthy organizations trying to do that very thing. Now is maybe the best time to remind people that compassion finds a way, as Jesus did.
Ah, but that was Jesus, you might say, and it was a miracle.
Sure. That’s true. But Jesus believes that you can be Jesus, just like the first disciples. Get in touch with the image of God in you and be Jesus. And, by the way, you can make miracles happen, too. Depends on your perspective.
One way to understand this story, like so many of the miracle stories (and there’s a lot of them), is to see it as an act of power from the Divine Jesus. This is the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, and Jesus wields the power of God to instantly provide food for everyone who’s there. It’s a supernatural act done for us by Jesus.
Okay, but I have questions. These people followed Jesus out to the middle of nowhere and didn’t take any food or an extra cloak or anything with them? Why start by telling the disciples to feed everyone? Why start with what they have? (Or, in John’s version of this story, there’s a small boy who offers his lunch.) Why not just make a feast appear out of thin air? And why the needless extravagance of leftovers? There’s twelve baskets full, where are they going? Food Bank? Home with everyone? Back to the disciples? Why feed them at all?
I’m sure there are answers to those questions - probably several - but the biggest issue for me is this: even with the disciples handing over their wee bit of food, there’s no further participation from anyone but Jesus. The people themselves have no part in this. Jesus does all the work.
But I think Jesus’ life is about showing us how we can be love, just like Jesus. I think we’d have a part in this miracle.
How about this. Jesus shows the people that the disciples are willing to share all that they have. It’s nothing, really, it’s all we’ve got, and I want you to have it. Those who did have something already, find themselves inspired by this radical act of outrageous generosity. So they share. With complete strangers.
Please don’t tell me I’m explaining away the miracle. That kind of sharing is no less miraculous. It must be or there’d be no one going hungry right now. Everyone in our own communities and in the world would have enough. But they don’t. If they did, it’d be a miracle. A miracle we could do.
Jesus doing all this in a way that’s impossible for us to do, well, that just let’s us off the hook. And not a spiritual one, either. It’s not a metaphor. People’s spirits have been earlier, this is the practical moment of putting love into action and feeding hungry bodies. We can do that. We can do that and it will still be just as miraculous.
I wish it weren’t. I wish it were ordinary, everyday, just how it is. But it wasn’t in Jesus day and it isn’t now. That’s why we think it’d be a miracle.
But there’s a way for us to make this miracle happen and it’s in how this little vignette begins: “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them” (Matt. 14:14). Any story, miracle or not, that begins with compassion is one that we need right now.