This post is about multiplying loaves and fishes. There is a well-known story in the New Testament in which Jesus is out in an isolated place with a huge crowd, and it gets to be dinner time, and Jesus’s buddies start getting worried about feeding the crowd, because we all know what happens when 5,000 people get hangry at once. The disciples want to send everyone away, but Jesus says “You feed them,” and the disciples are all like “What?! You crazy! We ain’t got no food!” (I hope you’ll forgive me for taking liberties in paraphrasing; I haven’t been sleeping well….). It turns out that the only food available is a few loaves of bread and fishes offered by this little kid. For 5,000 people. The disciples are about to run for it, but Jesus is chill; he takes the bread and breaks it and gives thanks, and tells the disciples to pass it out. They pass it around to all 5,000 people, and everybody has as much as they want, and then when everyone is finished, they go around cleaning up the scraps and they have twelve, count-em TWELVE big baskets of food left over.
I’ve heard a LOT of sermons based on this story, and I have to admit it’s one of my favorites. I was talking to a friend semi-recently (sometime during Wedding Planning Purgatory) about this story and she offered me an interpretation I’d never heard before (which had, to give due credit, likewise been offered to her by her spiritual director nun). Most of the time this story is treated as a supernatural miracle – the loaves and fishes defied the laws of biology and physics and super-atomized into an all-you-can-eat buffet. But my friend posed an intriguing question – what if this was not a physical miracle, but a social miracle?
Think about it. If you’re leaving town to walk half a day to this dead zone middle of nowhere field to listen to an itinerant preacher talk for hours and hours, wouldn’t you at least pack lunch? The social miracle theory of this story posits that many of the 5,000 had brought food with them. But nobody wanted to take out their food in view of their neighbors, because they might be expected to share with the free-loaders who came less prepared.
You know that moment when someone holds out their hand and asks for spare change and you pretend you don’t have any even though you do, and you feel this twinge of guilt but you really don’t want to pull out your wallet and make yourself vulnerable in that way? That’s the feeling. All these people had food, and none of them wanted to admit it, because they were all afraid that if their neighbors found out, they wouldn’t end up being able to enjoy enough of it themselves. Until that kid came forward and offered everything he had to feed the masses, and put them all to shame. So then when the basket came around, people would have been like, “Uh, thanks, I actually have some,” and then pulled theirs out, and so on and so forth, until everyone had their loaves out on the grass and was sharing and making new friends and living the hippie commune dream. And when everyone pulled out what they had, they had twelve whole baskets more than “enough.”
And the question my friend posed to me: Even if it wasn’t supernatural, is that any less of a miracle?
I mean, think of all the social barriers that would have had to have broken down for that to happen. This was 5,000 people, so we can be sure that plenty of them didn’t like each other when they arrived.
Anyway. I think it’s a miracle. And I bring it up because I experienced a little loaves and fishes moment today. As you may have heard, our city was slammed by the Frankenstorm, Hurricane Sandy, last week. While my dear husband and I came out entirely untouched, there are parts of the city that were completely devastated. I’ve heard that it’s like Survivor: Staten Island out there. Or Mad Max, now that the run on gas is in its 5th day or so. The photos are post-apocalyptic in the Rockaways, and there were definite rumblings of an Uptown-Downtown civil war in Manhattan, where no one below 39th Street had power for the whole workweek. In an environment like this, it’s easy to start hoarding, and pretend you don’t have anything to offer. Or to feel defeated, knowing that what you have to offer is so miniscule that it will make very little difference.
My church decided to accept donations to hurricane relief today, and our pastor said this morning that he almost didn’t set it up, because we’re such a small congregation, he felt like we wouldn’t have enough to offer to make it worthwhile. But we had such a loaves and fishes moment. Our church regulars brought plenty of stuff, but then half the neighborhood turned up too, including a couple people who just showed up to help organize. We ended up packing over ten cars and vans full to the gills with people’s leftover stuff – food, coats, blankets, cleaning supplies, diapers, clothes, deodorant, batteries, everything. That we even HAD ten cars/vans offered that had enough gas to make the run was a miracle in itself.
I’m not the only one experiencing the miracle of loaves and fishes during this time. I have a friend in Brooklyn who has been organizing drives for his local neighborhoods. He asked for donations of costumes and candy to take to the kids in Coney Island who had been utterly deprived of a Halloween experience. He posted the request on facebook at like 10pm, and he had such a full car by 9am the next morning that they had to leave some of the candy behind. He posted another request tonight for backpacks for the kids returning to school tomorrow (Monday) who lost all their school supplies, and the request was filled in 35 minutes.
When we give what we can, it turns out we all have more than enough.
So all this just to say……I believe in miracles?