Someone asked me recently what is it about being at the beach that draws me in, and I answered that it was a spiritual experience to sit along the shore, especially at night, and listen to the waves crashing against the shore beholding the vastness of the universe above. Not only is it a spiritual experience, but it is humbling, too.
Actually, life is filled with humbling experiences. I pat myself on the back for being a regular at the Monroe Athletic Center, working out, doing cardio, trying to stay healthy. That’s great, and I feel real good about myself until I turn on the TV and the Bowflex guy comes on the commercial with his six-pack abs (yes, those abs he got in only twenty minutes three times a week on the Bowflex), then I look at mine and I’m humbled (and embarrassed!).
Life can be humbling. That’s the context in which we have to view John’s account of the story of the loaves and fishes. That’s okay because it is in the humility of life that we discover the stuff of miracles.
This story, the feeding of the five thousand, is the only miracle Jesus preformed that is recorded in all four Gospels. John’s version of the story of the feeding of the five thousand (or the loaves and fishes, however you chose to reference the encounter) is distinctive in that John’s is the only account that tells us about the little boy. Can we identify with that little boy? Think with me for a moment what it feels like to be a child in a large crowd. It’s intimidating. It’s scary. It’s challenging. It might even be humbling. Here’s this little boy in the middle of a crowd of Pharisees, Sadducees, big burly fishermen, rich people, poor people—5,000 men, John tells us and that doesn’t include the women. Heck, this little boy is not even significant enough to be counted. He is insignificant…almost as if he doesn’t even exist. Is that a humbling experience?
He’s not just a little boy, but he’s poor, too. John tells us the loaves were barley loaves. Barley was the grain of the poor because it was the cheapest grain. And, the fish, well, they were sardines. Two little fish and a few slices of pita bread. This was the little boy’s Lunchable. This is what his mother had packed for him when he left home. He is a poor little boy with the worst sort of bread and a couple of sardines. When we understand this, we begin to see the power of the miracle.
The little boy was probably from a nearby village. He might have been out working in the fields or playing with friends when Jesus came by with this large crowd following him. Jesus comes along and the little boy gets caught up in the crowd. It gets late in the day and the crowd starts to stir. Some man (Andrew) comes along and asks for his lunch, “Jesus needs your lunch!” At first, he’s scared, but fear soon turns to pride—this teacher is asking for my lunch. Then, the pride turns to embarrassment as he says, “All I’ve got is my Lunchable—barley loaves and sardines.” It didn’t matter. Jesus took the barley loaves and fish and feed the crowd—maybe ten thousand people in all—and had plenty to spare.
I wonder why John makes mention of the little boy? I’m not sure why he mentions him, but I know the little boy teaches us that even the most insignificant among us possess the stuff of miracles. It was out of what the little boy had that Jesus found the building blocks of a miracle. Jesus desires to use whatever we bring. How many miracles in the world are denied because we won’t offer what we have to Jesus? We have time. We have skills. We have financial resources. We have expertise. We have so much to offer no matter how insignificant we believe ourselves to be.
Offering her little, a lady named Rosa made a difference. The story takes place in hell—Hell’s Kitchen, that is. Hell’s Kitchen is the most dangerous part of New York City. After her conversion, a Puerto Rican woman named Rosa wanted to serve. She didn’t speak a word of English. Through an interpreter, she pleaded with her pastor, Bill Wilson, “I want to do something for God, please!”
“I don’t know what you can do,” he said.
“Please just let me do something for God,” Rosa persisted.
“Okay,” Pastor Wilson said, “I’ll put you on a bus. Ride a different bus every week and just love the kids!”
That’s exactly what Rosa did. That’s how she offered to God the little she had in her own way, and as she had opportunity. In all, she rode 50 different church busses. She would find the saddest looking kid on the bus, sit down, put him or her on her knee, and whisper the only words she knew in English: “I love you, and Jesus loves you!”
After several months, she became particularly attached to one little boy. Because of him, she decided to ride just that one bus so she could be with him on the way to and from Sunday School. The little boy went every week with his sister, but he never said a word. All the way there, Rosa whispered over and over again, “I love you and Jesus loves you!”
The little boy never responded. One day, the bus stopped to let the little boy off at his stop. Before he got off, to Rosa’s amazement, he hugged her and stammered, “I, I, I love you, too!”
That was 2:30 PM. At 6:30 PM that same day, the little boy’s body was found stuffed into a garbage bag and placed under a fire escape ladder. His mother had beaten him to death. The story is unbearably tragic except in knowing that some of the last words he heard was the stuff of miracles. If he knew nothing else, he knew for sure he was loved by at least two people: Jesus and Rosa! Rosa offered her little bit of English, and what do we know that it made an eternal difference in that little boy’s tragic life.
We’re tempted to believe we can’t make a difference in the world. We’re tempted to believe that in the grand scheme of things, we’re just insignificant. We have nothing to offer. We’re not heroes. We don’t draw crowds. We don’t get press. But, here, too, God uses the insignificant, the overlooked, the little.
Jesus points out in the story, “not enough” is never the final answer. Because, when placed in the hands of Jesus, our human weakness becomes more than enough! Do we believe this? An African proverb says, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito.”
It is truly miraculous, when we allow God to work through us. We should never get in the way of God’s work, by trying to take things into our own hands and saying, “There is not enough to go around!”
What do you have to bring to Christ today? You may feel like you don’t have anything significant, or that you’re not significant. You may be like the little boy who only had his Lunchable, but Christ will take that Lunchable and transform it into an all-you-can-eat buffet. When I bring my meager fare, and you bring yours, God through the Holy Spirit does the work, and it is truly miraculous!
Until next time, keep looking up…