Feeding the Five Thousand

a story (and a sermon)
sliced bread on gray surface

“They’re hungry,” I said. “Look at them.”

I said they were hungry, but I meant me. I was hungry. And tired. And if I was honest, more than a little annoyed. I shouldn’t have to be the one to tell him. He should already know.

He looked at me. “Where are we going to buy bread for them?” he asked.

At this, I nearly lost it. He couldn’t be serious. Why was his planning so poor? He could have at least arranged for a food truck.

“Maybe if you spent more time thinking ahead and less time preaching endlessly, we wouldn’t be in this predicament,” I muttered, mostly under my breath, but I could tell he heard me. He raised an eyebrow.

“There are five thousand people here,” I said. “There might as well be five hundred thousand. Or five million. We don’t have the time or money or resources to feed them tonight. Let’s send them home.”

He still didn’t respond, just looked out over the vast sea of humanity. I felt my stomach rumble, and my face flushed with anger. There wasn’t enough. There was never enough. There would never be enough. I knew this from my life, in which I was forced to constantly compete for food, attention, energy, resources.

“Well, I’m going to find my own food, I don’t have time for this,” I said, counting yet another scarce resource I could never capture enough of: that of minutes and hours and days.

I resented the way he never seemed hurried, never jealous. As if he hadn’t yet learned the hard lesson I’d learned: you must scratch and claw for everything you get if you want to get anything at all. “He’ll figure it out eventually,” I thought smugly, then surprised myself by feeling ashamed of my own impatience. I settled back into a more familiar feeling—one that, for all my fear of scarcity, always seemed to be present in abundance: self-loathing.

Another of our company approached us, breathless. She’d gone to take inventory, in case someone had something to share. “A fool’s errand,” I’d protested then, and I gloated a little when she announced, her voice tinged with desperation, “All I could find was a boy who has five loaves of bread and two fresh-caught fish.”

I laughed out loud. “That’s barely even enough for one family,” I said. “This is pointless. I’m leaving.” Which, I noted, was the second time I’d said it, yet I was still there.

He looked at me, then at her. “That will be more than enough,” he said. “Have the people sit.”

She hesitated, as if struggling to make sense of his words, but she saw something in his face that reassured her. She scampered off to spread the message.

I turned to him, full of fury. “How dare you,” I said, my throat so constricted by rage it came out as a hiss. “How dare you fill them with false hope.”

He didn’t reply, and I followed his gaze out to a buzzing, bewildered, yet somehow trusting crowd, who were sitting in a field with no food or drink in sight, yet were convinced they were about to experience something extraordinary.

“Did you hear me?” I said, this time louder. “How dare you fill them with false hope!”

Finally he turned to me, his eyes brimming with such pity, I thought I would burst with anger. He had the audacity to look at me with pity, as if I were the one who didn’t understand, when he was the one filling starving and broken people with false promises of imaginary bread?

“We thank thee, Father, for these thy gifts!” he prayed in a loud, booming voice, and held a loaf of bread above his head, tearing it in two. “Take, and eat!”

He passed the loaves and fishes to people on either side of him. When I could be silent no longer, I stood and pointed an accusing finger in his face. “You’re a liar!” I cried. “You say there will be enough, but there is never enough, there is never enough, there is never enough!”

A dam inside me burst, and all the resentment and all the rage I’d built up over years of being hurt, overlooked, reprimanded, disregarded poured out of me, like a rushing river overflowing its banks. “There is never enough food! There is never enough money! There is never enough time! There is never enough opportunity! There is never enough love!”

Some around us had stopped to listen, but I had long since lost control. I was weeping in their midst.

He touched me gently on the shoulder, and I looked again into his eyes—his terrible, unbearable, pity-filled eyes—and he said, simply, “Katie. Look.”

He was pointing out toward the crowd.

“Look.”

I looked, and the people were feasting. They were feasting on five loaves and two fish. They were laughing and sharing and talking and dancing and eating, and eating some more! Our companion ran back to us, breathless again, this time with awe and delight. “There’s enough! There’s more than enough!” she said. “We gathered the leftovers and they fill twelve baskets!”

She laughed, the carefree laugh of a person who would never again be the same, and shouted as she ran to tell another companion, “There are twelve baskets leftover!”

I stood speechless, staring after her. He likewise said nothing. We stood together in silence for as long as I could bear. Then finally, I turned to him, my voice trembling: “Lord, how is there enough?”

He laughed broadly and warmly. “My foolish, foolish child,” he said, taking me by the shoulders, and this time I saw it wasn’t pity in his eyes, but love—love as deep and as wide as all the oceans on earth. “There is enough because I am enough. Don’t you see? *I am* enough.”

My breath caught in my throat, and I knew instantly that it was true. Of course he was enough. He was all that had been and would ever be.

He dropped his hands from my shoulders and turned to the crowd to teach them.

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