I don’t know whether this is a story of a supernatural miracle, where bread and fish multiply, or a telling of a stone soup story, where the need of the crowd is met due to the ever growing generosity of crowd members sharing what they have brought. Either way, this story tells us of the generous nature of Jesus who modeled hospitality everywhere he went. Whether the food multiplies or the generosity of the crowd multiplies, it is a miracle nonetheless.
I remember growing up hearing my dad tell of his childhood just following the Great Depression. Whenever people showed up at the door for a visit, she would feed them, often when there wasn’t even enough to feed her own family. She would whisper, “FHB” meaning “family hold back,” so that the guests would leave satisfied. I did not experience that level of poverty growing up, but I did inherit my grandmother’s love of feeding others. In my household, the more the merrier, and in my family of 5 we regularly feed as many as 12 on any given night. We are a poorer family than my family growing up, but it doesn’t matter to me. Sharing a meal with guests is never more expensive than I can afford. Because it is more than sharing food. It is sharing conversation, building relationships, and coming together in a tender and vulnerable way. Jesus knew that the way to effect change in the world was by strengthening relationships between people, and the way to strengthen relationships between people was to share meals together. Miracle or stone soup? The miracle was the profound change made possible by the sharing of food.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.