On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured. The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
The account of the feeding of the five thousand appears in all four Gospels. John’s Gospel differs from the synoptic Gospels in as much that the loaves and fish are produced by a boy (John 6 v 9). This small detail has raised the question in some people’s minds as to whether or not the boy’s generosity in willing to share put the others in the crowd to shame and they in turn then produced what they had brought but had been unwilling to share. This is an issue that we cannot resolve as we have only this one account of the boy’s involvement.
What we do know is that all were fed with twelve basketful left over. Some are sceptical when it comes to miracles. They say that there must be some logical answer to what occurred, or is there? We recall Thomas’ reaction when the Disciples said they had met with the Risen Lord in the upper room, and there are people who adopt a similar approach when it comes to miracles. But miracles do occur, I know because I once witnessed one. Bill (not his real name) was born a healthy baby but suffered a severe reaction to immunisation. He ended up on life support in intensive care. He made no progress and his parents were advised that it would be kinder to switch his life support off.
This they did, but instead of dying Bill’s bedsores began to heal and eventually he was well enough to return home. Yes, he had become profoundly deaf and had learning difficulties, but in answer to the local church and family’s prayers he was alive. That was many years ago and Bill, now about fifty, still worships in his local church. And they say there are no miracles?
Miraculous God, your vision is far broader than ours; we rarely see much beyond the tip of our noses. Help us to see more clearly the wonders of your grace. So that our faith may be enriched beyond our wildest dreams and our trust in you deepens, enriching our worship through our daily experiences of life. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister worshiping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex