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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Today’s Reading | John 6:1–14

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (NRSV)


The feeding of the five thousand is a difficult story to know how to deal with. You can explain away the miracle and call the story a metaphor, but that seems like kind of a cop-out. On the other hand, you can assume that it literally happened just as described, but that just doesn’t make sense based on everything reasonable we know about how many people can be fed with five loaves and two fish.

This interpretive challenge would have been just as significant in the days when the Bible was written as it is today, and in spite of that, this is one of the few stories about Jesus told by all four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Even though the story is difficult to understand, it has always been popular.

Stories that seem impossible are often popular—we need look no further than movies and television, which today as much as ever are filled with stories of zombies, vampires, and superheroes. Why? 

My hunch is that impossible stories are popular because the human spirit survives and thrives on the hope that impossible things can and do happen. These are the stories that reassure us that the mountain ahead of us can in fact be climbed, that the insurmountable challenge in front of us can be achieved, and that much more often than we think, life can and will exceed our wildest dreams and expectations. 

Maybe this story isn’t so difficult after all.


God, help me to believe that your hopes and expectations for me, and for this world, are greater than I sometimes dare to dream. May I never lose the desire to hear and believe stories that are truly miraculous. Amen.

Written by Adam H. Fronzek, Associate Pastor for Adult Education and Worship

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