Have you seen a “Wet Paint” sign with a daub of paint on it? That daub of paint gives the painter and the curious a place to touch and see if the paint is actually wet.
Jesus gave his disciples the same opportunity to touch and see that he had risen from the grave. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus eats a piece of fish in front of them demonstrating his resurrection.
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Luke 24:41-43 (NRSV)
Each Sunday we also get a small sample to touch and see, perhaps even taste God’s goodness. We touch one another shaking hands passing the peace of Christ, even greeting people we might avoid Monday through Saturday, demonstrating for a few seconds the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. Each Sunday I pour water into our baptismal font during the assurance of pardon as a visible reminder of our baptism and our cleansing from sin. Each Sunday I offer our children an object lesson, occasionally bringing a physical object for them to touch and see, to help them and those sitting in the pews recognize God with us. And when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we break bread together eating from one loaf of bread tasting God’s assurance of our unity in Christ.
I made a mistake during the children’s lesson. We had just read Matthew 14:13-21, the feeding of the five-thousand, and I neglected interpreting this as a multiplication of loaves, that somehow five loaves had become enough to feed five thousand men plus the women and children.
I should have considered that people would prefer the idea that with Jesus five loaves could become enough to feed everyone. The passage fails to explain how five small loaves and two fish had fed everyone plus had yielded twelve baskets of leftovers. The abundant leftovers shows those present did not merely take a tiny taste. Did the loaves miraculously expand as one family passed them to the next? Did a new loaf spontaneously appear as people took a piece from those serving?
Interpreting this miracle as a physical multiplication of loaves would show Jesus as creator of all that is seen and unseen, as able to create something from nothing, as one who can ignore the laws of nature to solve our mundane problems.
Alas, Jesus did not say: “I’ll take care of this;” instead he commanded: “You give them something to eat.”
We had demonstrated this story in 2012, when we had asked families to bring a piece of bread from their table at home to share for communion, thus connecting our communion table with our personal dinner tables. I was anxious. What if people forgot? Instead of a loaf of bread to break, our communion table had four empty baskets. As our deacons collected the offering I had invited families to place their piece of bread in the baskets. When they had finished the four baskets held enough bread to serve communion to several congregations. Apparently other people worried about having enough to eat.
I suspect the disciples had felt anxious when Jesus had told them: “You give them something to eat,” and they could only come up with five loaves and two fish. Would the people riot when the bread ran out?
But just as the disciples had hidden a few loaves and fish in their cloaks, I suspect many people in the crowd had a little food with them. I imagine the crowd getting anxious feeling their stomachs growl while doubting that those sitting near them had any food.
Imagine going to a sporting event and finding all the food vendors closed, would you pull a candy bar or a water bottle from your coat if you thought the people near you were hungry and had nothing to eat?
Thus I interpret the feeding of the five-thousand as a miracle of sharing. As people broke off a piece from a loaf or fish handed to them, they reached into their cloaks and added to what the disciples and their neighbors had shared. Their generosity not only fed everyone, but yielded abundant leftovers.
Sharing remains a miracle for scarcity often drives human responses rather than recognize and rely on hidden gifts already in our hands.
The miracle of sharing fits within the laws of nature (conservation of matter) and keeps the opportunity for solving mundane problems in our hands. Feeding those who are hungry is not merely a divine problem but also our problem.