Wendell Berry calls the Bible an Hypethral book. Hypethral is an architectural term meaning building without roof or ceiling. The only roof these stories have are ones we have created ourself. Ceilings make the stories small and contained. But the New testament Gospels particularly are more dangerous than that. Wendell writes the following regarding the Bible:
“It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better. Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. This is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.”
~ Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
With those words of Wendell in our minds we discover in Mark chapter 8 the story of Jesus feeding 4,000 with just a few loaves and fishes. This is the second time in as many weeks that Mark tells a story of Jesus feeding a crowd. In both cases Jesus does the same thing-he takes too little and makes it more than enough. After giving thanks he breaks the bread and tells the disciples to start handing it out. While this seems so absurd that it might stop some from reading any further, may I remind you of Wendells ideas. If we are too look around at nature, at all of creation we see this happen everyday. This is what fish do, they replicate, this is what yeast does it expands and grows. I don’t know how to explain this inside a church, but outside it seems not only possible, it seems like it’s already been happening. I am just too sophisticated to call it a miracle.
What I find interesting is Jesus doesn’t first make enough bread for everybody and then distribute. Can you imagine what the pile of croutons would have looked like to feed 4,000 men plus women and children. Can you picture him stepping back eyeing up the mound of Carbs and saying ‘that should do it.’ This isn’t what we witness, instead he merely blesses it, breaks it, possibly puts it in the few baskets they had – then says, ‘go at it boys, start handing it out.’ For God the problem is never whether or not their is enough, the problem seems to be in the distribution.
I wonder how many of the crowd actually knew it was a miracle-at least in the sense that we read it. I don’t think people were witnessing bread sticks growing or fish duplicating. I think the miracle was happening in the basket, like that friendship bread the mennonite neighbour used to bring over. It’s interesting that the religious leaders immediatley after this event ask him for a sign…what was wrong with the one he just did unless it was a miracle that happened unaware. In fact I bet, depending on who you spoke to that day-you would get at least three different stories.
Jesus might say the miracle was that the disciples listened and started handing out the bread when they knew it wasn’t enough.
The disciples might say the miracle is that they didn’t get trampled when people realized there was croutons and sardines.
The crowd most likely thought that a meal at the end of a hot day, especially one you didn’t ask for is always a miracle.
I read of the unexpected miracle of compassion on this crowd and the decision to respond. Genuine compassion doesn’t look at assets first then assess how much one can do. Genuine compassion looks at the need first then requires the assets to step up. In our world the bigger miracle isn’t to get enough food to distribute, the miracle needed is to get enough compassion to want to.
I read this story and am able to set aside the absurd idea that Jesus merely created a pop up buffet. I realize that miracles happen everyday, but depending on were you stand you might not see them. I have begun to redefine miracle as ‘the unexpected’. Jesus could of easily done this as a public relations stunt in front of everyone, or required every piece of bread to pass through his fingers. Instead, the only thing he seems to require is participation. Could it be that the issue isn’t whether there is enough, but instead its about distribution. I realize that sometimes you don’t seem to have to have enough, you just have to start spreading around what we have. Truthfully, I have been to Costco, and to the Superstore…we have enough. The miracle is already started, but were not listening as Jesus says go ahead, pass the baskets. If we move beyond material wealth and look at compassion assets and our ability to relieve the suffering of multitudes, our issue is still distribution.
Unfortunately like the disciples I think our limitations determine our invitations. In other words if we don’t have more than enough we won’t feel that we can share. This extends beyond merely food and shelter. Our love and caring is limited by our ability to feel constantly stretched and tired. Busyness has not only robbed us of the opportunity to distribute affection and love it has left multitudes hungry. Invitations should be determined by the need not the bounty.
Jesus might have been the first to multiply fish and bread, but my mom did this every Sunday afternoon growing up. Something has been lost in our modern economies. I read this week that 50% of the worlds wealth is possessed by 80 people, many of them American. Of those americans I wondered how many are church going Christians by title? I don’t think the problem is about assets, we have enough….that is the miracle. Our problem is distribution.
Hey Christ follower, Jesus has blessed the bread, broken it, and put it in your basket…don’t lift the lid to see how much there is, just do as he says and pass it around.