How To Feed Five Thousand People

Another in a work-in-progress, stories for liberal religious kids.

Once upon a time, Jesus and his disciples (that is, his closest followers) were trying to take a day off. Jesus had become very popular, and people just wouldn’t leave him alone. Jesus and the disciples wanted a little time away from the crowds that followed them everywhere, so they rented a boat and went to a lonely place, far from any village.

But people figured out where they were going, and by the time Jesus and his friends landed the boat, there were five thousand people waiting there for them. So Jesus started to teach them, and he talked to them for hours.

It started getting late, and the disciples of Jesus pulled him aside and said, “We need to send these people to one of the nearby villages to get some food.”

“No,” said Jesus. “The villages around here are too small to feed five thousand people. You will have to get them something to eat.”

“What do you mean?” his disciples said. “We don’t have enough money to go buy enough bread for all these people, and even if we did, how would we bring it all back here?”

“No, no,” said Jesus. “I don’t want you to go buy bread. Look, how many loaves of bread have we got right here?”

The disciples looked at the food they had brought with them. “We got five loaves of bread, and a couple of fried fish. That’s it.”

“That’ll be enough,” said Jesus.

His disciples looked at him as if he were crazy. There was no way that would be enough food for five thousand people!

But Jesus had spent the whole day teaching people about the Kingdom of God, teaching them that everyone is dependent on someone else. And while he was sitting up in front of the crowd teaching, he looked out and saw that many of the five thousand people had brought their own food with them. He watched them as they surreptitiously nibbled away at their own food, ignoring the fact that many of the people around them had no food at all.

Jesus told everyone to sit down on the grass. All five thousand people sat down. Jesus brought out the five loaves of bread. Being a good Jew, he blessed the bread using the traditional Jewish blessing: “Blessed are you, O Holy One, Creator of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Then, so everyone could see, Jesus broke the bread, and cut up the fish, and divided it up, so the disciples could hand it around.

Everyone saw that even though Jesus and his disciples had barely enough food for themselves, they were going to share it with everyone. From where he sat, Jesus could see the truth dawning in people’s eyes. All day long, Jesus had been teaching them that the Kingdom of Heaven existed here and now, if only people would recognize it. Now Jesus was giving them a chance to show they understood, and to act as if the Kingdom of Heaven truly existed.

The disciples began to pass around the bread and the fried fish, shaking their heads because they knew there wasn’t going to be enough food for everyone. Yet, miracle of miracles, there was plenty of food to go around. People who had food put some of their food into the baskets so it could be shared. People who hadn’t brought food with them took some food from the baskets. By the time the followers of Jesus had passed the baskets to all five thousand people, everyone had gotten enough to eat, and there was so much food left over that it filled twelve baskets.

And that’s the story of how Jesus fed five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fried fish. Many people believe that Jesus performed a magical miracle when he blessed the bread and fish, and that somehow God turned a dozen loaves of bread and two fish into thousands of loaves of bread and thousands of fried fish. It’s easier to believe that God performed the miracle, than to believe that humans could perform the same miracle. Because if humans performed the miracle, that means we could do the same thing today: to share with those who need it, and to live as if the Kingdom of Heaven existed here and now.

Source: Christian scriptures, Mark 6.32-44. Theological interpretation from Bernard Loomer, Unfoldings (Berkeley, Calif.: 1985), pp. 3 ff.; and Latin American liberation theology.

2 thoughts on “How To Feed Five Thousand People

  1. Modern Girl

    That’s a pretty good adaptation. Except…how was Jesus capable of projecting his voice loud enough so that 5,000 people could hear him without a microphone?

  2. Dan

    Modern Girl @ 1 — Several possible answers to your question. (a) It’s hard to estimate the size of crowds. As is so often true, the supporters of Jesus could have overestimated the crowd by a factor of between two and ten. The Roman authorities, by contrast, told the press that only a couple hundred people turned up to listen to a minor-league political radical and religious nut. (b) In an appropriate setting, someone with a good strong voice could actually be heard by five thousand people. We could assume a calm day and closely-packed people, and we could imagine surrounding terrain that could focus the sound somewhat. (c) It could have been like that scene in the movie Life of Brian, with people on the edges of the crowd murmuring to each other, “Blessed are the cheesemakers? What does he mean by that?”

    I cannot resist pointing out that among Unitarians, both Theodore Parker and Norbert Capek preached (indoors) to between two and three thousand people every week for years with no amplification. Universalism was a more decentralized movement, and I don’t know that it ever had congregations that large; but many of the old Universalist preachers were quite used to preaching in the great outdoors.

    Most of the current crop of Unitarian Universalist ministers is dependent on electronic amplification and would be unable to speak to a group of more than a hundred without amplification. In the big evangelical churches, the preacher had better use a microphone if he (most all of them are men) want to be heard over the praise band. And Baby Boomers are the first generation to grow up listening to rock and roll, and they are apparently suffering greater hearing loss earlier in life, so if you want to reach the increasingly deaf Boomers (and all the later generations), even opera companies are finding that they have to amplify their singers. Just because we see ministers today who can’t preach without a microphone does not mean it is impossible to do so, it just means that technology has shaped the way today’s preachers preach.

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