Take a little walk with me. I’m going to look at this Sunday’s gospel again, but through lenses that are shaped a little bit differently. I’d like to help you see the story through some different lenses, too. So close your eyes and take a deep breath – go ahead, I’ll be with you when you’re ready to come back – and open your heart to the story. Here goes.
Jesus has been teaching and healing and caring for others. He is tired, and he wants some time to himself, so he escapes to a boat and rows into a big lake. On the far shore, he finds a solitary place; there’s nobody around for miles, nobody to make demands, to ask for anything, nobody to stand there in front of him so blatantly broken and in need.
You see him go, and you watch him get into the boat and row. You see where he alights on the other side, and you know he is alone. You know you probably shouldn’t bother him, but you feel so burdened, so broken. Your pain and need consume you, and you know that this man can fix those things. You look across the lake, to where the boat is pulled up onto the shore, and you know you can make it… so you start walking.
As you walk, you become aware of all the little voices within yourself. This one cries out, feeling alone and scared. This one cries out, the ache in your knees that won’t go away any more, that only grows worse. This one is furious with your mother. This one hasn’t spoken to your brother in four years, misses him sorely, but isn’t sure how to begin to talk to him again. This one just knows it is worthless and useless, that it will never accomplish anything of worth before it dies. This one aches to be loved and valued, and this one is afraid of being that open and vulnerable with anyone. They shout and scream and clamor for attention. They are all so needy, so broken, so hurt.
Finally, you come upon the place where Jesus is sitting. He is sitting on a rock, his back to you. You can smell the water, and hear it lapping against the shore. The sun is beginning to set now, and no longer burns quite so hot on your bare arms. The sand is gritty under your tired, aching feet, and you yearn to sink to the ground in front of Jesus and just cry out, “Fix me, Lord!” Instead, you stand still. You are frozen. You don’t know what to do. Jesus is alone and silent, and you are afraid to break that silence, afraid that the clamor of voices will overwhelm and devour both of you.
Then, without speaking, Jesus turns around.
Yes, he knew you were there; he felt your approach in his heart and mind, every bit as much as he could hear your footsteps and see your lengthening shadow on the ground.
Jesus looks directly into your face, and in his eyes, you see such amazing depth, as if you were looking into the ocean or into the starry sky of night. You wonder what he sees in your eyes, if he can read all those noisy voices and thoughts and wishes and needs on your face.
Jesus nods slightly, and he smiles. “My beloved, of course I can read your need.”
Your gaze drops to Jesus’s bare feet, his toes curling into the soft ground. You find yourself counting the grains of sand stuck to the black hairs on his toes, and close your eyes for a moment to clear that thought from your mind.
“I love you, you know. And I don’t like to see you in need.”
You look back up into his face, his deep star-sky eyes, his compassionate smile, and you begin to smile in return. The silence stretches on, and you begin to fidget. Finally you break the silence.
“I’m kinda hungry.”
Now you feel like an idiot. This is Jesus, and he already told you he can read your need. And you told him you were hungry. Sheesh, couldn’t you think of something original to say? Something smart or witty? Something insightful or funny? No, just I’m kinda hungry. You fight down the urge to look down at the ground again.
Jesus smiles broadly at you. “I know. What do you have with you?”
You dig into your pockets. “Just this little crust of bread, I guess.”
“Ah. I have a little fish here, too. Let’s see what we can do here.”
Jesus beckons, and you follow him back to the rock where he’d been sitting, and you see that it is broad and flat. You clamber onto the rock beside Jesus, sweep away the dust, and lie the crust and the little fish on the stone. Jesus takes both of your hands in his own, smiles quickly, then closes his eyes and bows his head. “Abba, thank you for bringing your child here to me, so that we could share this time and this meal together. Please send your power into us, that our beloved will be made whole. And please bless this meal that we have gathered, so that it will fill our needs, sustain our bodies, and remind us of the feast that is prepared for us in your kingdom. Amen.”
As Jesus releases your hands, you open your eyes and gasp in wonder. Between you, on the rock, lie a dozen loaves of bread, and two large roast fish, just right for a supper together. Jesus smiles at your surprised look, and then you see his eyes deepen. You begin to realize that the clamor of voices has quieted. Your knees no longer ache; in fact, they feel better than they have in years. You feel completely loved, accepted, even treasured. There is no doubt in your mind or heart that you are a beloved child of God, who created you to be unique and marvelous, that you have a place in God’s creation, and that your name is written on the palm of God’s hand. Your heart feels peace, as though you were drifting to sleep, but you feel more awake than you have ever felt before. The world appears more clear and beautiful to your eyes – even the dry sand, even the deep and frightening lake, even the burning sun as it sinks lower in the sky – and the sounds you hear are the loveliest music. Jesus breaks a loaf of bread in half, and hands one to you. As you take a bite, the bread tastes wonderful. You close your eyes as you chew silently, marveling at all you have experienced this afternoon. You open your eyes again as you swallow, and you see Jesus gazing and smiling at you again.
Your heart swells with so many feelings – relief, peace, joy, love, gratitude – and you wish you could put them into words. As you and Jesus share this simple meal of fish and bread, you find your body filled. You are satisfied – your stomach and your mind and your heart are filled, completed. Whole. And still on the stone before you, there are eleven more loaves of that perfect bread.
Jesus reaches for a sack, and in companionable silence, you both place the loaves of bread into the sack. You both stand up, beside the rock. Jesus hands the sack to you, and you sling it over your shoulder. You know that this is your cue, but you are reluctant to leave him.
“Jesus – ” you say, but then break off. You bite your bottom lip in a second’s hesitation, and then you reach out your arms to embrace him. Jesus hugs you. His arms wrap around you, and you smell the cleanness of his hair. “Thank you,” you whisper. “Thank you, Lord.” When those powerful carpenter arms release you, you step back, finding yourself completely unashamed at the tears now rolling down your cheeks.
“My beloved, you are welcome,” Jesus replies. “Have a safe journey home, my friend. Offer your thanks to our God, and remember what God has done for you.”
You nod, unable to speak another word, and you begin your walk back around the lake in reflective silence. All those multitudes of voices clamoring within you – there must have been thousands of them! – they have all been fed. They are all quiet now, filled, satisfied. Jesus saw every one of your needs, and he was filled with love and compassion for you. He touched you, and he fed you – you reach back into the sack to feel those loaves of bread, even though they thump on your back with each step – an amazing meal from a stale crust of bread and a tiny fish. Shaking your head, you know that you can never explain what happened. But you know: Jesus had compassion on you. He healed you, and he fed you. You have a sack full of loaves to sustain you for days, enough to share with your family and neighbors. And you know one more thing: a miracle has happened to you, and you will never hunger again.