For the setting and a cast of characters for this series, click here.
“Five thousand men?” repeated Yiftach. “And I assume there were women and children? So what, twelve, fifteen thousand people overall? That’s like ten Capernaums deciding to have a picnic! And I don’t think 200 denarii would begin to cover the cost of bread for that many people – even if the surrounding villages had enough spare food to sell them.” He shook his head, disbelievingly.
“And where did that money come from?” asked Adina. “Didn’t you say Jesus told them not to take any money with them? How come they have that much?” “That’s a good question,” said Mark with a smile. “I never thought to ask Peter that!” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “And they weren’t supposed to take bread either, but they apparently ignored that too. Because when Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go look!’, they told him they had five, as well as a couple of fish.”
Yiftach laughed. “Well, that must have provided the crowd with a feast!” Mark smiled again. “It does provide quite the quandary for them. But Jesus obviously had something in mind. He commanded them all to recline by groups on the green grass. And they reclined in companies of hundreds and fifties.” Simeon spoke up. “Just as Moses organized the people in the wilderness following the exodus.” “Hmm. Quite so,” responded Mark. “Well, Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up towards heaven, he blessed the food and broke the loaves and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the crowds; and he divided up the fish among them all.” He paused before concluding, “And they all ate and were satisfied.”
Yiftach spluttered out another “What?!”, spraying his unfortunate companion with wine as he did so. “That’s impossible. Absurd! You believed Peter when he told you this?” Mark nodded slowly as he responded. “Well, it certainly qualifies as…miraculous. But such an event is not entirely without precedent.” He gestured to Simeon. “There was another great crowd in the wilderness without bread – following the exodus. Moses talked to G_d, and G_d provided the people with manna – daily bread.” “I get it,” said Yiftach. “Jesus is the new Moses. But this story is just unbelievable. I’m sorry.”
“More so than Jesus raising a little girl from her deathbed?” asked Miryam, gently. Yiftach shifted his attention to Mark’s mother. “Yes. No. I don’t know!”, he exclaimed. It’s all so…” He threw his arms up in the air. “Unbelievable. I’m sorry, but it is.” Before Miryam could say anything further Yiftach said, “And again, if something like that had happened, those people would never forget it. That story would have been told, and re-told for generations. Yet this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it.” He looked back at Mark, a note of challenge in his voice.
“My friend, I understand your incredulity. But what if the crowds didn’t know where the bread and fish came from? What if they just sat down, and the disciples brought baskets of food to them where they sat? They may well have expressed gratitude to the disciples, but never thought to ask about the source of the feast.” Yiftach shook his head, unconvinced. Simeon spoke up. “What if the miracle was not for the crowds’ benefit, but for the disciples? What if this is one more sign to them as to Jesus’ identity that they are slow to understand?”
Miryam leaned forward. “And to my mind, there is something more miraculous happening here. Picture that hillside. Thousands of people who had been there for some time. No access to water for ritual purification for those who needed it. No way of knowing who among your neighbors was clean and who was unclean. And yet, they sat down together in large groups to share a meal. In the presence of Jesus – their teacher, their shepherd – they sit and eat without concern for ritual purity. That strikes me as miraculous.” Yiftach nodded, indicating agreement.
Miryam smiled. “And perhaps something else happened on that hillside. As a mother, I find it difficult to believe that women would have headed out into the wilderness without at least some food for their children. What if they sat down in groups as Jesus instructed, and as the disciples brought food to the first few groups, they began to pull their own food out? And as they realized people next to them may not have brought enough – or anything at all – began to share what they had with each other? Perhaps those around them noticed and, like a ripple spreading across a lake, each group began to do the same.” Seeing Mark about to interject something Miryam held up her hand and said, “I know. I know. That’s not what Peter said.” She paused. “But maybe Peter didn’t tell the whole story.”
She swept her arm, to indicate the gathering in the courtyard. “Out there,” pointing beyond the gateway, “is the economy of scarcity. There’s not enough for everyone, so we hoard what we have, afraid to share in case there’s not enough tomorrow. But in here, we embody an economy of abundance, where each contributes what they can, until we discover there is enough for all. If we will learn to share.” She held Rachel’s gaze briefly, who smiled in return.
Mark stood. “Thank you, mother. Whatever happened there in the wilderness, it was miraculous, one way or another. When the meal was finished, they respected the gift of bread from G_d, picking up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces and also of the fish.” Adina called out, “One for each of the disciples! Surely they understood then?” Mark shook his head. “No, as we will hear tomorrow night…”