The feeding of the 5000

(Inspired by John 6:1-14)

My toe was throbbing. I had been expecting an easy day on the stall, so I had only worn my comfy sandals. If I’d known I would be climbing a mountain I’d have worn my winter shoes. Instead, I had bashed my little toe against a rock.

Alphaeus, my lifelong friend and constant pain in the neck, looked back at me with a smug grin. Come on, he had said, it’ll be fun. Not my idea of fun. Even if it was Jesus, even if he was going to teach us all something, I could think of better things to be doing than breaking my own toes. My mind wasn’t really in the right mood for listening and learning anyway. I was distracted by the thought of my eldest son manning the stall for the first time without me, and me up a mountain and unable to help if anything went wrong. Oh sure, there were plenty of other people in the market who would look out for him, but it still played heavily on my mind. That and my toe.

By the time I could see the summit, people were already starting to find places to sit. There were thousands of us. There were lots from my own town, some of whom I recognised, but by the numbers there must have been crowds from other nearby towns too, and some of them must have come miles. Was Jesus really worth that much? Clearly they thought so. Alphaeus was hopping from foot to foot with excitement, much to my sore toe’s annoyance. He kept blabbering half-formed sentences about miracles, healings, a coming revolution. I was beginning to see why he had been so insistent about me joining him – without me he’d have been talking to the grass.

No one seemed to know exactly what was going on. The teaching clearly hadn’t started, so everyone was quietly chatting amongst themselves, fiddling with bits of grass, trying to keep children under control. Every now and then one group would catch the attention of another group and ask them if they knew what was happening, but invariably they didn’t. I could see a small huddle up at the top, silhouetted against the grey sky. I guessed Jesus must have been one of them, but I couldn’t tell which.

Not long after Judas had expressed his excitement to me for the fourth time, there was a ripple of movement further up. Some men were coming down through the groups of people carrying something. At each little circle of friends they passed something round. I watched with interest. It wasn’t until one of the men reached me that I realised what it was he was carrying – a loaf of bread. He told me to take a handful. I had already had lunch, so I just picked a corner off. The man looked at me.

“You know, you can take more if you want it?”

I shook my head. “I’ve already eaten, I don’t need any more.”

“You may not need more, but do you want more?”

His eyes were wide with excitement, his face alive with wonder, as if he were about to burst into laughter. Clearly he knew something I didn’t. I looked at the bread. It did look good. And that piece of fish I’d had for lunch had been a little past its best. And I had walked up a mountain. So I pulled off a good chunk. The man smiled and continued on his way through the crowd.

I looked at my hunk of bread. It was huge. More than I needed really. I felt bad about taking so much, especially as there were so many people here. I watched the man skirt from group to group with his loaf of bread, wondering if I could catch his attention and give some of the bread back.

It was only then that the maths began to sink in. I had watched the man come down the mountain, going from group to group, distributing his loaf of bread. I had taken a huge chunk, as had Alphaeus, and that same man was now quite a way down the mountain, still distributing his bread. But he only had one loaf. At no point had he gone back for supplies. He was still sharing out chunks of bread from that same loaf he had started with, and from what I could see from the other groups he had been just as generous with them as with me.

I was still pondering that when another man approached, this time with a piece of fish. I was already feeling fairly full of bread, which I hadn’t yet finished. There was that same sparkle in this man’s eyes, a sense of surprise and amazement bubbling under the surface. He told me to take a handful. As I fumbled to find somewhere to put my bread down, Alphaeus reached over and took a chunk. It was more than I’d have for a whole meal, but the man didn’t complain, he just offered it to me. So I took some, and the man continued on his way. Feeding more and more people with just one fish.

I don’t recall hearing any actual teaching that day. Maybe I wasn’t listening. Or maybe there wasn’t any teaching to be had. Either way, the memory of being so replete stayed with me for some time. Even the Passover Feast a few weeks later paled in comparison.

A revolution is coming. That’s what Alphaeus said, as we walked down the mountain afterwards. This Jesus, who fed us all with food that didn’t run out, he would be our new leader. I hadn’t actually heard him speak, but I had an unsettling feeling that I trusted this man, without any definite reason to back it up. I just knew. It felt right. Jesus had done something on that mountain that shouldn’t have been possible, and he did it for all the thousands of us gathered round.

And, I realised, my toe had never felt better.

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