Of Loaves, Fishes, and Miracles —by Jinny Batterson
One of the earliest Bible stories ever read to me was an account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I remember thinking how special it was that thousands of people could be fed from only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. My knowledge of Biblical lore is not as deep as I’d like, but I’ve recently revisited Biblical loaves and fishes stories, of which there are at least six (Matthew 14, Matthew 15, Mark 6, Mark 8, Luke 9, John 6). Online sources explain that the miracle of loaves and fishes is one of few mentioned in all four Gospels. In all the stories’ variations, Jesus interacts with his disciples, with a spiritual force to whom he gives thanks, and with large crowds. Literalist interpretations stress how many baskets of leftovers were collected at the end of the meal. More metaphorical explanations of the miracles concentrate on the possibility that it was not Jesus’ direct intervention that multiplied the available food, but his unleashing the generosity of members of the crowds who had enough food to share.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about loaves and fishes stories, as the global covid-19 pandemic spotlights and sometimes worsens inequities in our access to material resources. I’ve been reading the words of former Congressman John Lewis, a champion of principled action and societal equity. I’ve been marveling at the life of this man who was so often told that there was not enough, that HE was not enough, but persevered to blaze a path of non-violent protest and public service. I’ve been thinking, too, about a woman colleague from a couple of generations ago and the lessons she imparted to her daughter.
I’ll call my former colleague Susan. Susan was a single mother. She’d struggled hard to provide a decent living for herself and her daughter. Susan never talked about the child’s father. I never asked. They lived in a very conservative neighborhood. Despite disapproving looks and hurtful comments, Susan insisted on taking her daughter to church and to Sunday school. Over time, Susan saved up enough to provide a summer trip to Disney World, every young princess’s dream. Planning the trip was almost as fun as the actual event. Once Susan returned to work, she was full of stories about the marvelous rides, about the great service at the hotel where they’d stayed, about how thrilled her daughter had been to meet Mickey Mouse.
“Do you have any special memory that stands out?” I asked her one day.
After a pause, she told me, “Actually, it wasn’t a ride itself, but something that happened while we were waiting to get into one of the most popular attractions. It was a hot day, and I decided to spend a little extra money to get my daughter a popsicle—nothing fancy, just one of those water ice contraptions with two sticks. When I next looked at my daughter, she’d broken the popsicle in half and given a piece to the little boy in front of us. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I didn’t say anything. The line moved fast, and we all enjoyed the ride. That night at the hotel, I asked my daughter why she’d done what she did—didn’t she like the popsicle?”
“It’s not that,” she told me, “but I could see that the little boy was just as hot as I was. I remembered my Bible school lesson—‘Jesus wants us to share.’”