The check-in question at staff bible study this week was “When have you been used by God in a way that you didn’t expect?” It’s the kind of question you search your memory banks to find an answer for. I couldn’t jog my memory in that way so instead came up with a story of how God used someone for me in an unexpected way. That was the subject of my blog entitled, “So Jesus walked into church today,” but that is not the subject of this blog!
My co-worker Kelley told the story of her 8-year-old son coming home from school and reporting that his friend only had a sandwich in his lunch and couldn’t they do something about it? As Kelley thought about who this friend was she remembered that he was the tenth child of a mother who had died while pregnant with what would have been her eleventh child. This mom was diagnosed with cancer and opted not to have chemo or radiation so she wouldn’t harm her still enwombed child. The sad ending of this story is that both died; dad and the other ten children are the remainder of this family.
That dad and mom were special in our community because of how they lived out God’s call to love our neighbors as explained in Matthew chapter 25. They created what is now the largest provider of food to families in our community who know what the term “food insecurity” means, Mission For All Nations, now known as Heartland Hope Mission. They feed thousands every month in Omaha, Nebraska.
The irony of the story (as I saw it) was that this little boy whose mother has been gone for five years, does not have enough to eat. But the good news of this story that Kelley shared is that she just stepped into that gap and not only sent her son with lunch to school, but packed an extra one for his friend. Then she discovered that a number of people at this school have stepped up to help all of the siblings who attend this school. The community – the family of God – is sharing their loaves and fishes so that there is enough for all.
The passage we studied that day in staff prayer was John 6:1-14, which is John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000, the only story that all four gospel writers recorded other than the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Two stories so amazing, that all four of these storytellers remembered and retold them.
It is such a familiar story to me and others that we can hardly expect to see something new there, and yet on Tuesday I did, prompted by Kelley’s story and pondering something I have imagined about how it happened that Jesus could feed all those multitudes with five loaves and two fish.
Verse 5: Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
And then in verse 6 is this part that struck me in a new way:
He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
He himself knew what he would do…
Of course he knew. He is God after all. 🙂
But we spend a lot of time looking at this miracle and imagining Jesus just taking those loaves and fishes and using his magical miraculous powers to keep a basket of bread and fish from running out as the disciples pass it around to the 5,000 men seated there, and then collecting up the twelve baskets of leftovers. Haven’t you done a lectio divina study of this passage, closed your eyes as it was being read for the third time and pictured the basket with a level of bread that just doesn’t go down? I have. So maybe I’m the only one…
It is a memorable miracle recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which we read – again – on Tuesday.
But right before we read it, Kelley shared that story…
And then Jake, who was leading our study, said that God uses what he has right there in front of him to meet the need – their need, our need – while we are worrying about where we are going to get the food to feed all these people.
“Here, Lord, this little boy has his lunch with him. A couple of small loaves with some fish. Looks like the makings of a sandwich for one. That’s one. You will have to take care of the other 4,999.”
And Jesus looks out there – he himself knew what he would do – and sees…
…his creation. A community of people. 5,000 men (so the account says). What it doesn’t say is (but we always mention it because it makes the miracle that much BIGGER) is that there are women and children, too, maybe 10,000 or 15,000 total. We know there are more than just men because, hey!, there is that one little boy with his sack lunch that Andrew has just offered to Jesus. (We don’t even know if Andrew asked the little boy if he could take it!)
And this is the miracle that I think happened, and go ahead and disagree with me if you want. You can close your eyes and see the story however the Holy Spirit puts it in your mind, but this is my version.
Jesus looks out there and knows what he will do. He sees a community of people, including boys with lunches their mothers packed, and most likely their mothers, too. Mothers who do what needs to be done when their sons go to school with well-packed lunches and their friends have less. Mothers get together to meet the need. And surely if there is one little boy with a well-packed lunch in that crowd of people learning from the master teacher, the Lord of creation, there are hundreds of little boys and little girls and their mothers who know they need to eat so they can learn and work and live.
Jesus – God – uses what he has right there in front of him. He knows what’s there because he made it: US! He gave us what we need: FOOD! He created us to be a community: LIKE WHAT HE GATHERED AROUND HIM.
You’re right. It doesn’t say that in John 6 or Matthew 14 or Mark 6 or Luke 9. It doesn’t indicate how Jesus fed all those people. But like Jake said, he uses what is there to make his kingdom come.
I just love this story. Jana and I have been advocating on hunger and poverty issues for years with Bread for the World and will do so again in June when we head up with hundreds of others on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. We will be mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers asking our government – our WE the PEOPLE – to use what God gave us to feed the hungry multitudes in our midst, in our cities, in our country, in the world.
“My friend has a very small lunch,” said Kelley’s son when he came home from school. The tenth child of the man who created the biggest supplier of food for hungry people in our community, is hungry himself. And God looked out there and saw Kelley and used her and the lunch she made for her son that day when he went to school. And just like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, she told us the story so that we would know.
God uses what is right there in front of him. You and me and our lunches, because it is more than enough for all.