It is amazing how a small thing can become big. I know you are probably thinking I am speaking figuratively. But in this case I am speaking literally, and about more than one occasion.
I had heard about the teacher. I knew he lived somewhere the other side of the sea, and that he had spent some time in Jerusalem. I heard that he spoke wonderful things, and that they said he was unlike any of our normal teachers. I had even heard that he could perform miracles, just like the prophets of old. But I had never had the chance to see or hear him.
When I heard that the teacher had come into our area, I knew I had to see him. Someone said he was in town, but by the time I heard about it and could get away they said he had taken a boat and headed toward the wilderness. (I later heard that he had left because the crowds were so big around him he couldn’t even find time to eat. But I didn’t know that yet.) A large crowd was gathering, with the intent of following him by traveling along side the water. I wanted to see the teacher, so I joined this crowd.
We went the direction the teacher had gone. We had only figured he would go a little way outside of town, and were surprised when it took us quite a while to catch up to him. When they said he was headed into the wilderness they weren’t kidding. When we found the teacher, we must have been over a half-day’s journey outside Bethsaida. But we did find him, and his students.
One of his twelve students, I don’t remember which, told us that the teacher had left town to try to get some rest. Some of us were ashamed that we had hounded him so, and were about to leave when the teacher, himself, appeared. He told us to stay and he would speak with us. He did not have to do that. If he was tired, we would have understood. At least, some of us would. Maybe he figured that many would stay anyway. Maybe he felt sorry for us and how tired we had to be. Maybe he had gotten enough rest as we were trying to find him. In any case he sat down and we crowded around to hear him.
It wasn’t easy to hear him, either. As we had gone along the shore, others had joined us. We formed a large crowd. I wasn’t sure how many of us there were, but it must have been a few thousand. The teacher sat down in front of a large rock, so his voice would carry more, and we stood around to listen. There were so many of us that we couldn’t all hear everything he said. The crowd kept moving, so that some in the front were forced to the back and eventually everyone had a chance to hear some of what he said. Somehow I managed to stay within hearing distance for quite a while once I got up toward the front.
I can’t remember everything he taught that day. Obviously he said a lot, although he may have repeated himself frequently because of the nature of the ever-moving crowd. I have heard him a few times since, and his message didn’t change a lot. He spoke about fulfilling the Law. He told us that he came to us to teach us righteousness. There were a lot of good people there, but he told us how to follow the Law better. He said the law was all about love, and not about doing all the right things at all the right times. There were a lot of not so good people there, too. He told them that life was not hopeless; that they could turn back to God, too. He talked a lot about what he called “the kingdom of God.” We had been taught that the Messiah would bring an age of peace and prosperity, when all men would live together under God’s law. I got the impression that he was talking about that kingdom, but he said that the kingdom was near. Did he mean the Messiah was about to come? But then he would talk about being sent by his Father and about coming from God, and I began to wonder if maybe he was saying that he was Messiah.
While he was teaching, people kept coming up to him having all sorts of ailments. Some had to be carried to him; some had to be guided to where he was because they could not see. Every time someone came to him with a complaint, be it a sore throat or blindness, he spoke a word or touched them. They all walked away healed! Now I can understand the ones with sore throats or runny noses saying they were healed. But people actually saw blind men they had known all their lives, who had to be led to the teacher so they wouldn’t step on someone, walk away through the crowd without running into anybody. People who had to be carried to the teacher because they couldn’t walk left his presence running to their relatives and friends! If his words had made me wonder whether he was claiming to be Messiah, his miracles made me wonder if he truly was Messiah, or at least his prophet.
I happened to be near the front late in the afternoon. One of the teacher’s students went up to him as he paused in his teaching. I overheard what he said.
“It’s getting late. It is well past suppertime. Send these people away so they can go to the nearest villages to buy food.”
I realized then how late it really was, and how hungry I was. We had all been so busy listening and watching the healings that we had forgotten our hunger.
The teacher’s response was, “Feed them yourselves.”
“Even if we had forty weeks’ worth of wages we couldn’t find enough bread to feed all these people,” answered another of his students.
“What do you have; how many loaves?” the teacher asked.
Among all his students they could only find five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish. They gave them to him.
The teacher took the food, then passed the word around for everyone to sit on the grass in groups of fifty or a hundred. When we had done so he looked up to heaven and said the blessing for bread. “Baruch ata adonoi elohainu, melech ha olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.” [Blessed art thou, o Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.]
Then he started breaking the loaves and fish and handing them out. We all figured that the first group of people his students carried them to would be the only ones eating that evening. Instead, they kept going back to the teacher and getting more to hand out. Soon (that being a relative term with the large crowd we had) everyone was eating their fill of bread and fish. It reminded us of the stories of the manna, and how everyone had just enough, no matter how little they collected. There was one difference this time, though. With the manna there was never any left over. When we were through eating they came through with some large baskets somebody had found. Each of his students filled up a basket with leftovers. I don’t know who took a count, but one of his students said there were five thousand men in the crowd, not counting women and children.
After we all ate, the teacher told his students to get into their boats and sent them across the sea. He stayed around long enough to send us all home. Then he went up the nearest mountain alone. He sent us away just in time, too. I had barely gotten back to my small village when a powerful storm broke. We expected it to last until morning, but it stopped suddenly in the middle of the night.
A few weeks later I was visiting relatives near Capernaum when I heard the teacher was in the area. After what I had seen on the other side of the sea, I naturally went out to see him. Again, it was a long walk to the mountain where he was. By the time I got there another large crowd had gathered. This was almost a repeat of the previous time. He taught, but mostly he healed. There were the usual lame and blind people, along with other ailments. I saw him heal a couple of people who had been unable to speak, even to ask him to heal them. They went from group to group in the crowd, shouting praises to God. Another man was deaf, and thus couldn’t speak well. The teacher took him aside, put his fingers in his ears, spit, and touched his tongue. The man walked away able to hear, and to speak clearly.
This time I had thought to bring some food of my own. We stayed out there with the teacher for three days, however, and I ran out of what I had. Apparently so did most everybody else. As we ran out of food, we considered whether to leave.
On the third day, the teacher told his students, “We can’t send these people off without food. They have been with us three days, and some are so hungry they would faint before they got to the nearest village.” His students asked how they could feed all these people, apparently forgetting the previous time. At the teacher’s insistence they found seven loaves and a few fish. The teacher again blessed the food and divided it. This time there were only seven baskets of leftovers. Of course, this time there were only about four thousand people in the crowd, instead of eight or ten.
After that, I started following the teacher around, figuring I didn’t have to work because he could feed us with the rocks of the road, if necessary. That is what I meant by so little becoming so much. A little bread can feed thousands. A few words can give hope of the coming of the Messianic Age to so many. If God can do so much with so little, surely he can do much with little old me.
[Adapted from Matthew 5-7, 14, 16 and Mark 6-8]