My husband recently spoke with a former hospice co-worker. Nancylou receives these daily reflections and noted that I recently referenced Mike’s foot surgery. She called to inquire about his recovery. After assuring his friend that he is fine, the two went on to reminisce about the work they shared. In the process, numerous beloved patients came to mind. Though I wasn’t privy to his patients’ names, Mike often shared touching stories about them. I remember one such tale regarding a young woman who had been stricken with cancer. She opened every visit with the assurance that she was doing “as well as I can.” A few minutes later, she habitually shared a new bit of wisdom which she’d acquired as a result of her illness. One day, she observed, “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 that 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…” Mike was amazed at this woman’s generosity in revealing this very personal perspective regarding her journey. So was I…
As I read John’s gospel (6:1-15), I couldn’t help considering this woman’s observation. John tells us that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek much-needed rest for his disciples and himself. The crowd followed because they had been deeply touched by Jesus ability to heal and to work other wonders. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope Jesus offered. When Jesus saw the fatigued and famished multitude, he was moved with pity and love for them. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find enough food for these people. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages could not purchase food for that crowd. Out of desperation, Andrew pointed out a boy among them who had five barley loaves and two fish. Somehow, Jesus acquired that boy’s basket of food and transformed it into a meal for thousands.
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 kid found himself in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. This boy probably ached with hunger himself after the long trek to the mountainside. Did any of the adults or older children try to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did it happen that the boy parted with what might have been his last meal for quite some time? Perhaps the boy had been impressed by Jesus to some degree. Why else would he have been amidst the crowd that day? Though the boy might have been dragged into the melee 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 was 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? Or, did Jesus himself approach the boy with an offer he couldn’t refuse: “If 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 simply don’t know why that boy relinquished his food to Jesus. As my thoughts return to that young hospice patient, I wonder as well. How was it that she found the courage to let go of everyone and everything that sustained her through this life? How was it that she loosened her grasp on the things of this world to reach toward the next? It seems to me that the boy in John’s gospel parted with his bread and fish because he couldn’t resist Jesus. It seems to me this young woman followed the boy’s lead because she, too, couldn’t resist all that awaited her in Jesus’ company.
Though I always felt that the multiplication of that bread and fish contained the main message of this miracle, I cannot ignore the boy’s willingness to let go of his food. Just as Jesus coaxed that basket from the boy’s hand, Jesus coaxed that young woman to let go of this life. Jesus does the same with you and me. It is through this miracle that Jesus urges us all to loosen our grips on the things of this world. The boy and young woman found their reward in Jesus’ promises, and so will you and I.
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