Certain figures stand out as of extraordinary character and we would like to understand their status in the midst of all others.
When Jesus arrived in Palestine 2000 years ago, his life inspired questions about his extraordinary capacity, far beyond the common human ways, he roused the imagination of many to speculate on divinity.
A few sample verses….
‘No one has ever healed a man born blind.’
‘Who is this that even the spirits obey him.’
‘No-one can forgive sins but god alone.’
And while many were shocked so for many others belief in Jesus grew.
Our gospel of the loaves and fishes today is one of the extremely challenging passages, for it describes an event which was best described as out of this world. Could such an event really be possible. The loaves and fishes story is a prime target of those who question the authenticity of what Jesus is described to have done.
I met up with some old school friends recently, and as we shared opinions on various topics, one friend responded cynically to one of my comments, ‘Sounds like the loaves and fishes to me Geoff.’ He was clearly unimpressed with my piece of information. The loaves and fishes is our topic today.
What does it tell us about Jesus? What do you believe?
For those who are inclined to dismiss the events authenticity I offer a caution. It can easily be misleading when we close down our focus to a simple portion of an event. Life is often far broader than we initially observe.
THE TWO SIDES
The story of the loaves and fishes is set in an interesting context. It tells us of John the Baptists death.
John was Jesus cousin, virtually the same age. No doubt they met often while growing up and probably knew each other well with a sense of one another’s strong devotion to God. John had publicly declared his mission to call all to repentance. He had spoken of another greater than he, one who was still to come.
For speaking out he had been killed.
Jesus is human. He grieves the loss of his close cousin and seeks solace in the privacy of the quiet wilderness. A man with a broken heart. His own humanity is the context of our story. Against this background we are lead on another journey.
Truly a human, but what more are we to glean?
JESUS THE TEACHER
The next thing that our story highlights is that he is a compelling, charismatic character. A teacher like no other, for people want to hear all that he might say. His wisdom we are told is like no other. The Jews did declare that no one spoke as he did. They follow him into the wilderness, intruding upon his personal reflection. For a considerable time he teaches them and as the day lengthens we see he is more than a teacher. He is compassionate.
A MAN OF COMPASSION
Presumably it has been a long hot day, they have attentively listened, and there is a distance to return home. If he knows his own human needs, then he is also aware of the needs of others. Whatever his mission was. Whatever he did, if it did not reveal love, then his mission was fraudulent, or like a noisy, hollow gong, as St Paul described, actions without love.
He was a grand and compassionate Social worker.
THE LOAVES AND FISHES
It is at this point that the account confronts human perception. He learns of the little boys offering of two small fish and a roll. Without attempting to fill in the details of how the event proceeds, for we cannot know precisely what happened. That is for prayerful meditation. We do know that eventually all in the crowd felt adequately fed.
The account implies that Jesus miraculously multiplied the small contributions offered by the boy. In our day many scoff at such a notion. Even though the world of science has enabled us to turn many things into something different.
The examples are limitless. Other than to say we live in an artificial world, of human making. We have learnt much through history and no doubt we will learn much more. Why wouldn’t we expect this? Jesus said, you also will do these things and in fact much more.
Of course, Jesus life was constantly confronting people and challenging them to think about him and his trust in God. It’s good to see what we believe he could do. We need to know him.
ONLY HALF THE STORY
I want to suggest this is only half the story. Was Jesus only interested in having people ask who he was. I want to suggest he also wanted to ask a question of us. Did not the event also ask something about the crowd?
Who are we?
What can we as a people aspire to?
Can we transcend the common and find that divine spark within, so that we will be inspired to do things we might not have believed possible. His impact upon the people ensured that they were all well fed. Who knows how, what was the miracle. Perhaps sharing amongst one another. I think he would hope that through his teachings and actions they were also fed in their minds to find ways of caring with others.
We need to take seriously Jesus challenge to us to think about who he was, but equally we must ask who we think we are. Do we emulate the divine spirit as he displayed?