The True Loaves and Fishes Miracle

Stewardship, part 1

There's a miracle story about loaves and fishes. You might have heard it:
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 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.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand. (Mark 6: 3--44, NRSV)
Now, I wasn’t there. The story might be entirely made up, but let’s just suppose that something happened that prompted the telling of that story -- that it's based, however, loosely on something that actual happened. Let’s suppose that whatever happened, it wasn’t “an interruption of the causal nexus of history and nature” (a phrase of the British theologian Daphne Hampson). The actual event perhaps did interrupt the mind’s chatter about its needs and fears. Whatever really happened was probably something that interrupted obliviousness and allowed people to notice wonder and beauty – the abundance that life presents in each moment. What was it? What happened?

I would name this miracle Neighborliness. Neighborliness happened. Neighbors gather, community happens, and abundance flourishes. My favorite Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, notes,
“Jesus talks a great deal about the kingdom of God -- and what he means by that is a public life reorganized toward neighborliness.”
That’s the kingdom – the kin-dom – of god Jesus was talking about: public life reorganized toward neighborliness.

I imagine a crowd of people in the grip of scarcity thinking gathering to hear Jesus teach. They had secreted away for their own use food for themselves. Under the influence of this remarkable teacher, they began to open up, began to sense the intrinsic abundance of the life they breathed, and the universe in which they swam. From that sense of boundless provision welled up an urge to share of this manifest plenty of which they were suddenly so acutely aware. From the bottoms of bags and folds of clothes came forth food to share. It was a miracle all right. I’d call it the miracle of neighborliness, the miracle of community. Parker Palmer explains:
“The disciples, asked to feed the crowd, are sure that food is scarce. Jesus performs a ‘miracle’ to reveal how abundant food is even when there is none in sight. In this story, as throughout his active life, Jesus wanted to help people penetrate the illusion of scarcity and act out of the reality of abundance.”
I saw that miracle of neighborliness and community yesterday. I walked through our kitchen a little before 10, and again a couple hours later, and again a couple hours after that. Each time I saw eight or ten members of this congregation busy at the food preparation tasks for today’s brunch we’ll soon be enjoying. And over the speaker were the sounds of our choir and musicians rehearsing for the sock hop – that we’ll soon be enjoying.

People gave up a big chunk of their Saturday to come together, to make food and make music, to offer their gifts. And it wasn’t because they didn’t have anything else to do. It’s because they didn’t have anything better to do – and that’s because there isn’t anything better for human beings to do than share of themselves – their time, talent, treasure, and the sacred mystery of their personhood -- in the making of community.

It is such abundance we make: working, learning, sharing, and just being together. I felt it yesterday. I feel it every Sunday morning I’m here. And I look forward to being in its midst on into the afternoon today.

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This is part 1 of 3 of "Stewardship"
See also
Part 2: Abundance Is the True Law of Life
Part 3: Never a Greater Need

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