I love the image of Jesus in John’s story of feeding the five thousand. Imagine sitting on a hillside out in the country and watching as that many people come toward you across the open land. Drawn by curiosity and hope, they cautiously approach in little clusters of family and friends, but from where you are sitting they look like an ocean on legs. They are rolling steadily toward you, and there are so many that you wonder who could possibly be left in the nearby towns.
Jesus looks out at this sea, and his first thought is a motherly one: How do we feed them? I would not be thinking this. I’d be worried about my voice carrying across the crowd. I’d be wondering what to say and how to say it. Or I’d question whether my healing skills were up to all the demands that would be made on them that day. But not Jesus. He sees the crowd and his heart goes out to each and every one of them. He offers the simple comfort of a picnic in the grass.
Many scholars think that what happened that day is that Jesus encouraged folks to break out the snacks they must have brought with them for their journey into the wilderness, and to share them with each other. And I can see this. I can see him going from one little group of people to another and at every cluster asking, “Do you all have something to eat here? Do you need more? How much bread do you want? How much fish?” And I can hear them replying, “Well, Elizabeth brought enough fish for all of us, and then some. We could use some bread, though. And here are some extra figs. Take them and the extra fish around to the others.”
It is indeed a miracle when resources are shared. Suddenly what benefited only a single family is a gift of abundance for all. And the original family is not shorted. They have enough, and they have the added blessing of being able to make a difference to others. How cool is that!
But the miracle that stands out for me today is the simple solicitous concern of this chosen one of God, this Messiah. He has a message to deliver, good news to share. Time is limited; he is only going to be around for a few short years. People have come to him in pain, in need of healing. They have come to him confused and lost, believing they are worthless. They don’t know who God is, and he needs to show them in the tiny slot of time allotted to him before he is taken, tortured and killed. And yet his first question to the crowd is, “Are you hungry?” And he throws an impromptu party and gives them something to eat.
I think about the church embodying this motherly aspect of Jesus: worrying that people are getting their vitamins and wearing their ear muffs on cold winter days, or that they are getting all their favorite foods and that their socks are darned and dry. It’ seems to me this is a good first step in caring for a world that yearns for God’s love. “Here, sit down on the grass. Let me get you some food.”
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado