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We are living in a 'loaves and fishes' moment

: Laura Hollis on

There are three accounts in the New Testament of Jesus Christ feeding a multitude of people with a handful of loaves of bread and a few small fish. In the Gospel of Matthew, the number of people is listed as 4,000. In the Gospels of Luke and Mark, the number is stated to be 5,000.

According to all three gospels, large crowds of people follow Jesus into a remote area, where he preaches to them for several hours. (The account in Matthew says that the crowds are with Jesus for "three days"). Christ's disciples advise him to send the crowds away to get food and drink. Christ tells his disciples to give the people something to eat. The disciples protest, saying that they have nowhere near enough food or money to feed so many people. When Christ asks his disciples how much food they themselves have, they point to a handful of loaves and an even smaller number of fish.

At that point, Christ blesses the food before him and asks His disciples to feed the people with it. Dutifully, they seat the crowd in smaller groups and then proceed to distribute what little they have.

None of the accounts explains in any detail what transpires immediately thereafter. But all three state that everyone present had plenty to eat, so much so that the leftovers filled seven (Matthew) or 12 (Mark, Luke) baskets!

As a child in Catholic school, I was taught that Jesus "miraculously" created all the additional food needed. Such an otherwise inexplicable event wasn't a stretch for someone, we were taught, who could cure leprosy, blindness and paraplegia, and even bring people back from the dead.

Years later, I was seated in a pew at Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Tennessee. The pastor at the time, the Rev. William Fleming, was giving a sermon on these gospel stories. In his homily, he asked us to consider a different account of what might have happened.

 

It was extremely unlikely, Father Fleming suggested, that hundreds or thousands of people would have followed an itinerant preacher into the desert, miles away from their own town or village, intending to hear him teach for hours -- and not have brought a thing to eat or drink. What if, he asked, the miracle was not Jesus Christ's magically "creating" food for a crowd of thousands? (Oh, it's not as if He couldn't have, seeing as he is the Son of God.)

But what if the miracle was what happened after the disciples took what little they had, sat down and began to share it with those seated next to them?

It is not difficult to envision. The small group of people seated with the disciples would likely have taken out their own meager provisions and shared them with those closest to them. Others, witnessing that spirit of selfless generosity, would be inclined to do the same. And so, Fleming continued, that spirit of generosity could have spread throughout the entire throng, until everyone who had food and drink was willing to share with others.

Although none might have individually had what could be called a surplus, under any stretch of the imagination, all of those small portions, when added together and shared, were not only sufficient to feed everyone present; there were leftovers -- baskets of leftovers.

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Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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