My husband and I just returned from a visit with my sister Cecele. Since Cecele spent the past two days in bed, Mike and I were thrilled that she found the strength to get up to greet us. When we told her so, Cecele responded, “Yeah, but I’m still in my pajamas!” After assuring us that her sense of humor has indeed returned, Cecele became serious. “You know, when you’re sick, people encourage you and urge you on to get well. They know just what to say. When you’re in hospice, it’s different. Everyone knows you’re not going to get better. It’s hard for them to know what to say. It’s hard for the person in hospice, too…” During the moments of quiet that followed, I marveled at my sister’s ability to share this very personal perspective regarding her journey.
As I read John’s gospel (6:1-15), I can’t help considering Cecele’s dilemma further. In this passage, John offers his rendering of The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. As the story goes, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee to seek some much needed rest for his disciples and himself. A crowd follows along because they have been deeply touched by Jesus’ numerous healings. The people cannot get enough of the hope that Jesus so generously offers. When Jesus sees the fatigued and famished multitude before him, he is moved with pity and love for them. Jesus turns to the disciples and asks where they might find food for them. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responds that two hundred days’ wages could not purchase enough food for the crowd. Though he knows this will be of little help, Andrew points out that a boy among them has five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus somehow acquires the boy’s basket of food and transforms it into a meal for thousands that has been remembered for the two millennia since.
As I consider Jesus’ miracle, it occurs to me that I have never given much thought to the boy with the bread and fish. This poor lad finds himself in the midst of a hungry horde who has no prospects for a much needed meal. This youngster probably aches with hunger himself after his long trek to the mountainside in search of Jesus. I wonder if some of the adults or older children tried to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions. I wonder how it happened that the boy was willing to part with what might have been his last meal for quite some time.
As I consider further, I surmise that this boy must have been impressed by Jesus to some degree or he wouldn’t have been amidst the crowd that day. Though the boy may have been dragged into all of this by his parents, somehow he managed to get close enough to Jesus for his basket of food to be noticed. With hundreds of hungry people in need of the boy’s food, how is it that Jesus came into possession of it? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s family insist that he part with his food for Jesus? Or did Jesus himself approach the boy with an offer he couldn’t refuse: “If only you will let go of these few fish and loaves, I’ll replace them with something that you will have forever. Will you let go of this small meal so I can fill you up with all that you will ever need?”
In the end, I don’t really know the reason that the boy handed over his very sustenance to Jesus. As my thoughts return to my sister Cecele, I wonder. How is it that she finds the courage to let go of everyone and everything that has sustained her through this life? How is it that she slowly loosens her grasp on the things of this world to reach toward the next? It occurs to me that the boy in John’s gospel parted with his bread and fish because he couldn’t resist Jesus. It occurs to me that Cecele is following the boy’s lead because she, too, simply cannot resist all that awaits her in Jesus’ company.
The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes gives each of us cause to let go as well. Just as Jesus coaxed that basket from the boy’s hand and coaxes Cecele to let go of her life among us, he coaxes you and me to loosen our grips on the things of this world. Just as the boy found his reward in Jesus’ presence and Cecele finds her reward in Jesus’ promises, you and I find our reward in the God we simply can’t resist.
©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved