As a child I spent a lot of time at my father’s Baptist church and if I am being honest, I enjoyed the environment of the more kid-friendly “Sunday School” a lot more than Mass at the time. Sunday School had fold-up chairs that were just my size, cookies, fruit punch, crafts, songs, and plenty of Bible stories retold via flannel board. (It would be years before I realized there was, in fact, a Catholic equivalent depending on which Mass you attended.)
One of my favorite Bible stories was the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I can still remember the day Mrs. Purvis dramatically told us how Jesus managed to feed thousands of people with so few supplies and how amazed I was by His ability. However, the longer I thought about it, the more convinced I was that it couldn’t have happened the way she presented it. (This is me after all. Are you really surprised?)
Naturally, the version of the story Mrs. Purvis offered my Sunday School class was the one in which, out of everyone who was following Jesus around like He was the Grateful Dead, the only person smart enough to bring along a snack was a young boy. Now, I don’t know if his mother packed him this unwholesome lunch or if he managed to catch a few fish along the way, but he’s the only one with food…which Jesus then takes away and multiplies.
Now, I don’t like to be one to nit-pick over a quality miracle, but why does Jesus need the kid’s food in the first place? He is GOD. He made manna come from Heaven in the desert. He built the Garden of Eden out of nothing and filled it with every kind of vegetation Adam and Eve could have needed. He saw to it that the ark was fully stocked without the food chain getting completely upended. He turned water into wine at Cana…I’m pretty sure He can do this and quite frankly, probably come up with a more balanced meal than bread and fish. I’m just saying.
But then again, I tend to look for the humanity in miracles rather than the divine. I’ve never been the type of person who is amazed by the “hocus pocus” of the miracle itself, but rather in the circumstances, timing and people that result in a miraculous event. I once heard about a natural phenomenon that causes the Red Sea to recede enough that it was possible for Moses and the Israelites to cross it. (Supposedly, it happened for Napoleon as well.) When I heard that, I became so excited because not only was I convinced that it really happened, but I also realized that the miracle wasn’t in the sea’s parting…but in getting everyone there at exactly the right time. (If you’ve ever tried to organize a large group of people before, then you know what I’m saying. It’s like herding cats.)
So what happened with the feeding of the multitudes? How did Jesus manage to feed thousands of people on two items, satisfy their hunger and have food left to spare? Yes, He may have used his Super Powers to conjure up enough for everyone, but then there is no real reason to take the kid’s food or use His own provisions in the first place. In my opinion, that part of the story is key and that’s why I believe that Jesus may have made Stone Soup in order to feed everyone.
For those of you who have never heard of the story…Stone Soup is a fable in which a young, hungry soldier goes from door to door in an enemy town during the winter looking for something to eat. The townsfolk quickly tell him that they do not have enough for themselves, let alone anyone else and after being refused by the last house, the soldier goes to the center of town and starts a small fire. He pulls out a pot from his knapsack and fills it with snow, which he places over the fire. He then finds three big rocks and puts them in the pot as well. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for the locals to peek out their door and ask what he is doing.
“I’m making stone soup,” he tells them.
As they gather to watch the man stir his water and rocks, he tells them how it would be even better if he had a carrot. Sure enough, someone has a carrot. Then he asks for a potato and someone gives him one…one and on he goes until he has a nice beef stew simmering in the pot – made from the contributions of everyone else. He shares the result with the crowd and his unusual recipe impresses everyone – who had never heard of “stone soup” before. However, we know there is no such thing as stone soup. The only recipe he had was the one that changed people’s hearts.
Maybe Jesus did cause the bread and fish to multiply…and if you believe that, I won’t argue the point. But maybe, He did something even more miraculous. Maybe he caused people to look inside themselves, have a change of heart and share what little they had so that He could create a meal everyone could enjoy…and it turned out to be more than enough. When we take His words to heart and share with one another, we always leave feeling fulfilled.
And when we do that, we know that we will get our just desserts when we are in His presence and at His banquet at the table with Our Father in paradise forever.
Today’s Mass Readings: GN 3:9-24; PS 90:2, 3-4 ABC, 5-6, 12-13; MK 8:1-10