Saturday 2/10/18 The divine is in the details

The miracle of the loaves and fish is the kind of Bible story that keeps me awake at night. It’s not the fact that Jesus managed to feed everyone by miraculously multiplying the available provisions, but I am driven to distraction by the circumstances that required His assistance in the first place. If I were an editor vetting this story for publication, it never would have made the evening edition.

In the wee hours of morning when I am losing sleep over whether I subscribe to a literal interpretation of this story or a more symbolic one, I can’t help fantasizing what it might have been like to take the gospel writers to task over what is, at best, shoddy reporting.

“What’s the matter with you, Mark?” I’d begin in Perry White fashion. “I send four of my best guys out to cover this event and you come back with a ten-verse account that ignores at least three of the five W’s of journalism! Who are these people? When and where did this occur? Do you honestly expect me to believe that 4,000 folks would travel from far and wide to hear Jesus speak without bringing along a sack lunch? Why would anyone do that, Mark? Did you even bother to ask?”

            Mark would shuffle his feet a little and clear his throat. “Well, I know John said there was a little boy who gave up his loaves and fish for the group…”

            “Yeah, I read John’s version of the story as well as Matthew and Luke’s,” I’d cut in, not giving him a chance to explain. “I don’t understand how the four of you can file similar stories and yet none of you can come up with a consensus as to what actually happened. You say there were 4,000 people in attendance. One of the other guys said it was 5,000. Did you bother trying to find out who was in charge of the door to get anything close to an official head count?”

            “Well…no,” Mark would mumble.

            “And yet you know how much food was left over and where Jesus went next,” I’d shake my head at the lack of consistent facts. “Now about this kid that John got ahold of. Was he there alone? Where were his parents? How did all of you miss this angle? Did it even occur to you that this kid could be the key to the whole thing! I thought you said this Jesus fellow was the Son of God and can do anything! Why does he need the kid’s snack pack in the first place?”

Mark wouldn’t have an answer for that. Neither would the other three and it’s the part that bothers me more than I care to admit. This is the second food related miracle in which Jesus needs a prop. The first, of course is the wedding at Cana in which He turns water into wine and even though He’s already healed the sick, calmed the seas and exorcised at least one demon all by Himself…He now requires supplies in order to do something miraculous?

It doesn’t make any sense and it won’t until about 15 minutes before my alarm goes off when it occurs to me that he’s enabling us to be part of His work. The divine is really in the details. Whether we are pooling our resources in order to make sure everyone has their fill or sacrificing what we already have in hopes that He can do more with it, the miracle of the loaves and fish is about more than the magical moment in which Jesus feeds the masses – it’s an invitation to be part of the miracle. It’s like the song says: “We are many parts. We are all one body and the gifts we have, we are given to share.”

It’s the explanation that satisfies enough for me to get a quick catnap before getting up and starting my day, but I willingly admit, I haven’t riddled out all of the answers. I still don’t know why no one else thought to bring any food along or why they expected Jesus to do something about it, but that’s a problem for another day. As a journalist, I have learned that there are many angles to a story and when it comes to the Gospel narratives, I have learned that every detail is critical to the plot. While some will focus on a literal interpretation and others prefer a more symbolic one, I see it as an invitation to take action because sometimes, even a miracle needs a hand.

Today’s readings for Mass:

1KGS 12:26-32; 13:33-34; PS 106: 6-7AB, 19-20, 21-22; MK 8:1-10

About the Author

Julie Young is an award-winning writer and author from Indianapolis, Indiana in the USA, whose work has been seen in Today’s Catholic Teacher, The Catholic Moment, and National Catholic Reporter. She is the author of nine books including: A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guerin, The CYO in Indianapolis and Central Indiana and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Catholicism. She is a graduate of Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis and holds degrees in writing and education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She can be found online at

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  1. An excellent message: Be proactive. Don’t wait for a miracle to happen; help make it happen—through faith, prayers, whatever we each can contribute. Let’s not wait to see and then believe; let’s believe and then see (what happens)!

  2. Thank you Julie for shining a light on this. I wondered about the boy being the only one to bring food too. Travelers know to bring food on a journey, but then I thought that maybe it was a spur of the moment thing. No time to pack, hurry up Jesus is here! Let’s see what He has to say. The boy just happened to have a mother who made sure her son had food with him when she sent him out to do his work or go to school. But, what always struck me is the love of Jesus and his provision. He provides.

  3. Hey Julie,

    I would tend to think just the opposite of your title of today’s reflection.

    Read a few more verses down in chapter 8 of Mark (verse 29) and Jesus asks a bombshell of a question, “Who do you say I am?” Stop and think if Jesus didn’t do any miracles. Now answer that question.


  4. I believe one of the most explicit images is in the song: We are many parts but one body… I used it with Confirmation classes. We need to act according to God’s plan in order to feed the people of our world!

  5. I’m not bothered by the lack of details. But here’s a detail that may help you rest easier.

    The crowd had been with Jesus for three days. Perhaps some didn’t pack food, and perhaps some did. But they probably weren’t anticipating to be there for three days. So even the ones who packed food may not have had enougj for three days, especially if they shared with those who had none.

    But I’m not bogged down with details. You could really send yourself into a pointless tailspin: where did they sleep? Did they have tents or at least blankets? Where did they go to the bathroom? You could probably get caught up in even more details… but why?

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