five thousand feeding themselves

The feeding of the 5,000 is a very popular, if not one of the most popular, miracles of Jesus to tell. Utilizing the rather simple, and detail-less wording, most, if not all, interpretations of this passage have rendered Jesus doing a miraculous thing, feeding 5,000+ people with nothing but five pieces of bread, and a pair of fish. This is all well and good. We can learn things from this; simple, (but for some reason, hour long) sermons have been popularized, speaking to God always meeting our needs, God using the little we have to make a lot, God using the small to make big change, etc., etc., etc.

What if, however, we de-spiritualize this miracle. What if Jesus DIDN’T feed the multitude with a tiny amount of food. What can we learn if we read this text in a non-over-spiritualized light? I think quite a bit, in fact, some very interesting, and important truths about community, and the work of Jesus himself.

“When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.'”

Notice Jesus first reaction is that the disciples shouldn’t be asking him for a miracle; but that they should be finding the ability he’s already given them, to feed these people. He doesn’t ask them any questions, or tell them any parables. He just tells them to go feed the people. The disciples are baffled at how they could afford to buy food for all these people. Jesus then asks them to find out how much food they have and they do. He prays over it, blesses it and gives it back to them. Then all the people are fed.

But what if, Jesus only gave the food back to his disciples. What if the disciples than took this lesson of sharing what they had among them, and spread it to the people, looking for food the people had and spreading it amongst their small groups of 50-100 people. Think about it. 4 loaves of bread could feed a lot of people in dire circumstances. If the disciples saw Jesus do this, and took his “You give them something to eat,” to heart, they would have taken back his action to the small groups of people, told them how to feed themselves, and they would have been filled. Maybe it was the first potluck.

What if Jesus intention in this “miracle” story, was not a miracle at all, but an action, that can teach us how our communities can be fed using our resources together. This is something Paul talks about a lot when discussing the early church. If the church is, as is much the case, reliant only on God, and prayers, often time, not much will come about, because Jesus clearly wants us to be actively working in his kingdom. If we ask God for food, but don’t ask our community for help, why should we deserve it? If we ask God for help with bills, but don’t look for a way to acquire help from our brothers, why should we deserve it? Being a follower of Jesus is more than just reading the Bible and praying. Being a follower of Jesus is about community, love, asking, giving, making peace, feeding each other, aiding each other, and spreading the Gospel of the Love.

What if Jesus’ miracles aren’t all miracles? What if they are actually just stories about people finding out how to actively live out Jesus’ teachings while he was living in their time? What if. I guess I’ll find out.