When I was new Christian, I was happy to believe that all the miracles were truly miraculous, in a bending-the-laws-of-nature way. In my zeal, my beloved RE teacher's explanation that many understood the Feeding of the Five Thousand as a miracle of generosity rather than supernatural multiplication of food felt dull and decidedly uninteresting.
Needless to say my faith has evolved in the intervening three decades, as has my understanding of our sacred texts. And this week, as I dwelt on Mark's account (found in chapter 6) once again, I was sat in a room full of people committed to seeing fresh expressions flourish across the UK and who deal with the reality of resource allocation in our various institutions. For many, if not all of us, a miraculous multiplication would be useful right now.
But as we prayed with this text, using a form of Lectio Divina, I found myself returning to the alternative understanding that Mrs Press had taught me all those years ago. I pressed in using my imagination: and saw people unwilling to share any food they had with them, seeing the enormity of the crowd and fearing that if they did so there'd be none left for their family. So no, they said, we don't have anything with us. We can eat it on the way back home, they whispered, so no-one will notice we held it back and we'll have enough.
The familiar line in the passage about the green grass interrupts my thinking - taught in my earliest bible scholarship classes that this implies Mark was an eyewitness - and then there's Jesus' instruction that everyone sit down in groups. My imagination feels nudged that this is important: why sit them in groups? If I've ever pondered this before I can't recall, but my immediate response is that its easier for the distribution of food that Jesus knows is imminent. But today I feel unsatisfied with this idea: Jesus rarely does anything for his own convenience.
If we sit in groups, even large ones of fifty to a hundred, it will be hard to pull out the provisions from my bag unseen, and harder still to only share with those nearest me. Only brazen selfishness can pull it off. As I realise what this means - that I am in community with others who came to hear this Man speak and teach us what this life is about - my instinct to hoard what I have seems beneath me. Beneath us. And slowly, sheepishly, we take out our food to be shared.
Not to be sneakily shared in our group, with a silent tacit understanding that we have been caught in our selfishness but we'll never mention it again. No, with a sigh we know we need to take this to the Man who understands our human nature implicitly, to acknowledge the change in our hearts that we've experienced today. We take up our small offering, inadequate to the need we perceive. He blesses it, offering an absolution for our wordless confession, and it goes out into the crowd as we are released from the responsibility for it. In this moment, whether or not we are fed seems irrelevant: something more important has happened and missing a meal doesn't disrupt that.
This Miracle of the Eye-Contact has a lot to teach us about our current situation, where belief in scarcity and fear of our way of being church losing out in the distribution of resources is driving so much angst that isn't rooted in the Kingdom of God. The way forward is human connection, hearing our selfishness statements through the ears of others. Seeing the ways our resources could bless others up close. Coming to the understanding of how Christ's blessing on our meagre offering can change our hearts further and provide enough for us all...