Following this traveling Rabbi means weeks on the road. We’ve traveled all over Galilee and regions around the sea. He preaches everywhere we go. Telling people about the kingdom of heaven being near. A true enough statement, it does seem so. For who can do the miracles he does, if not one from heaven?
As we sit around the fires at night, we talk about what he’s done, what he’s said, the new interpretations to old teachings he’s given. Everyone has different ideas.
There’s talk of the Messiah. About a revolution. An overthrow of the Romans. Those discussions are spoken in whispers and with wary eyes.
If it weren’t for the healings, many would consider him a gifted Rabbi with new, controversial, and sometimes even dangerous ideas.
Others say he’s a prophet. Like the old stories. God has been silent for so long. It’s about time he’s sent another prophet.
And the miracles. Healing servants, sons, daughters, rich, poor, the blind, those with leprosy, a woman with bleeding issues. Casting out demons. Even raising a daughter from her deathbed and a son from a funeral pyre. For who can do these things, if not one from heaven?
And that’s not the all of it. The disciples even talk about him calming a storm on the sea. I wasn’t there for that one, but oh how I wish I could have been. Only his closest followers were on the boat when it happened. Imagine. He even commands the gods of the winds and waves to obey him. For who can do so, if not one from heaven?
Some don’t like his methods. Breaking the Sabbath. Questioning the practice of the law. Wining and dining with disreputable people. Of that, I’m grateful. Any other Rabbi would have chased me away long ago. But he’s not any other Rabbi.
And now he’s retreated to the mountains. There’s been news, that the Baptizer was beheaded. Somehow they were related. The Rabbi and the Baptizer. So he mourns. His disciples are with him. The rest of us give them space and make a small camp on the grassy area nearby. But as we rest in the shade, we hear a distant commotion. I stand and look out over the rolling hills. Surely it can’t be. But it is. They come. Thousands of them. A string of humanity across the countryside. Like the Israelites in the desert. Heading our way.
Have they no respect? No consideration for the Rabbi’s need for rest. And the disciples. They’ve only recently returned from their own preaching trips. Can’t they be left alone for one afternoon?
I look to the hillside. He’s noticed them as well. He and his disciples make their way down and sit down on rock outcroppings near our camp. The people point and run and gather around him. Of course he welcomes them. Then teaches them throughout the afternoon. When he calls those who need healing to come forward, I turn and look out over the crowds and gasp. So many. They must have emptied every city and town in the area. And still they come.
The Rabbi is undeterred. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, makes the lame to walk, restores the flesh of those with leprosy. They draw near. He touches them. And he heals them.
As the sun begins her decent to the west, my stomach rumbles. Those in our small camp have set up a fire and are baking bread and roasting some fish. The warm yeasty smell drifts across the grassy area. We receive jealous looks from people nearby. I realize then, many of them have failed to bring any sort of food for dinner. So desperate, so excited, so eager, they left their homes and workshops without plan or provision.
Andrew, one of the disciples, eyes our dinner then steps up next to the Rabbi. “The place is isolated and the hour is already late; send the crowds away, so that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
The Rabbi studies him for a long moment, then turns and surveys the crowd. “They do not have to leave; you give them something to eat.”
His disciples stare at him with open mouths.
Philip starts to say something then stops when the Rabbi looks at him. “Yes, Philip? Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?”
Philip chokes. Then says “Two hundred denarʹii worth of bread is not enough for each of them to get even a little.”
The Rabbi’s smile eases away the tired lines from his eyes. “How many loaves do you have? Go see!”
Andrew comes over to our camp and assesses our dinner preparations. My stomach rumbles again. We only have enough for ourselves. And the Rabbi and his disciples. One of the children in our group picks up the small basket his mother has been filling with bread and roasted fish. Before we can stop him he runs it over to Andrew.
Andrews looks in the basket and shakes his head but takes the boy by the hand. He walks the beaming child back to the Rabbi. “Here is a little boy who has five barley loaves and two small fish.”
Those in our camp grumble protests, but not loud enough for the Rabbi to hear. The other disciples chuckle.
Andrew glances at the crowds and shrugs. “But what are these among so many?”
The little boy’s shoulders slump.
But the Rabbi’s eyes twinkle and he squats down and gestures to the boy. “Bring them here to me.”
Excitement spreads across the boy’s face and he approaches the Rabbi, holding out the basket. The Rabbi nods. “Have everyone sit down,” he tells his disciples.
It takes a little while for everyone to figure out what is going on, but soon everyone settles into camps of people like ours, but with out fire or food. Anticipation and expectation grow.
The Rabbi watches, the boy standing next to him. Then the Rabbi takes one of the loaves and lifts his eyes to heaven and says “Praised be you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” He breaks the bread and drops the two pieces into a couple of nearby baskets. He does the same with the other four loaves, then tosses the two fish into the remaining baskets. He looks as excited as the little boy when he tells his disciples, “feed the people.”
They do. Like the servants filling the water jars at the wedding, they get to work, dumping baskets of fish and bread at every camp. Over and over and over again. Like the widow’s oil flowing from the jar, the bread and fish continue to flow from the baskets.
Ecstatic chaos follows. The excitement blossoms with every delivery. Like manna from heaven. A happy confusion of baskets and hands, and people and laughter, and bread, fish and feasting. The people recline, and eat, and talk and rejoice.
From my place by the fire, I pop a piece of warm fish in my mouth. I don’t know that I would believe it if I weren’t seeing it. Imagine. He even commands bread and fish to multiply. Who can do so, if not one from heaven?
The little boy sits next to the Rabbi and eats his own chunk of bread. Their heads are close together and I can’t hear what they’re saying. But from the look on the boy’s face, he’s enjoying his meal companion.
When the sun dips over the horizon, the Rabbi stands and stretches. “Gather the leftovers,” he tells his disciples, who, like the rest of the people, have eaten their fill. “Let nothing be wasted.” And the twelve baskets are filled again.
Of course, the one from heaven would let nothing be wasted.
Not his time of rest and mourning.
Not the crowds looking for him.
Not a little boy’s dinner.
Not the overflowing leftovers.
And maybe, just maybe, not a hopeful follower like me.
Grace & Peace