Crossways Concepts

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Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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Bible Witness #3: Feeding of 5000

The following is the third in a series of fictionalized re-tellings of various stories of the Bible.  God has provided the Bible as a wonderful love letter to us.  Let us always praise His name.

[The following story is based on the events described in Matthew14:15-21, Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17 and John 6:3-14]

Once in a while you experience something that so astonishes you, that it completely shakes your concept of reality, that sort of experience cannot help but change you.  That is exactly what happened to me last spring.

I would never have had the experience except for my nephew.  My brother's son, Elam, had been hearing all the stories about the prophet, Jesus, and wanted to see him.  I didn't really have any interest in seeing him.  I never thought that there was any way that this man could live up to all the talk.  I would hear people talking about him and I would just shake my head at how gullible people are.  I was positive that I knew better.

Anyway, Elam, wanted to go see Jesus.  We do not live near any of the big towns.  Elam's father forbade him to leave his work long enough to go all the way to Capernaum or one of the other towns.  Only harvest time is more busy than the spring planting time.  So, one day when Elam heard that Jesus was only an hour's walk away, he became very excited.  His father gave him leave to go for the day, but he should take somebody with him.

About a week earlier, I had injured my shoulder in an unfortunate accident.  This resulted in me being relatively useless in all the planting activities, so I was a logical choice to accompany Elam on his frivolous journey.  While I had no interest in seeing Jesus, I was becoming really frustrated by standing around watching others do work, so I welcomed the break.

With Elam urging us forward, we were headed down the road in a matter of minutes.  A person would think that we were really going to see the Messiah, based on how excited Elam was.  As we walked quickly down the road, Elam dismissed his usual quiet demeanor to chatter away about all he had ever heard about Jesus.  While I had heard most of these unbelievable tales before, his storytelling did succeed in kindling a bit of interest in seeing the man that inspired all these crazy stories.

As we strode toward our destination, I found that my shoulder was hurting more and more.  I had thought I would be fine making this trip with Elam since walking doesn't involve using the arms.  What I discovered, was that every step bounces the shoulder a little bit.  The cumulative effect, after several miles of mixed terrain, was that my shoulder was throbbing continuously. 

On a normal day, we could have made this walk to the sea only seeing a few other people, but today, the closer we got, the more people we encountered.  Everybody was headed the same way, going to see Jesus.  As we crested the last hill, I stopped flat in my tracks.  I had never seen so many people at one time!  The people covered the hillside like ants on a log.  Never in my life had I seen anything like this.  There must have been thousands!

I was torn.  I wanted to see the man that could attract people to himself like this, but I was suddenly afraid at the same time.  I wasn't even sure what I was afraid of: was it the crowd or Jesus, or maybe something in myself?  I didn't have time to worry about it because Elam was grabbing my arm, pulling me along and excitedly saying, “Come on, Uncle Gibbel, we're going to get to see Jesus!”

Before I knew it, we were in the middle of that huge crowd.  As Elam pulled me along, he was scanning the crowd.  I had no idea how he expected to recognize this Jesus man out of all the chaotic human activity.  The whole area was an enormous mass of people.  They weren't just young men like Elam.  Looking around me, I could see men, women, old, young, Jew, gentile, individuals and groups.  It was like a feast day in Jerusalem, except more diverse and excited.

Suddenly, a boy of maybe 10 years came running at top speed out from around a group of Greek women.  He nearly ran into us in his haste.  I stopped short to avoid a collision and was rewarded with a sharp burst of pain in my shoulder.  As the boy ran, he shouted an apology over his shoulder, but as he wasn't looking where he was going, he crashed right into a quartet of Pharisees that were conferring closely together.  As Elam pulled me along, my last glimpse of the boy had him with his ear in the firm grasp of one of the Pharisees.

The next thing that caught my attention was a little girl we passed that was saying to her mother, “I'm hungry, do we have anything to eat?”  I never go to hear the mother's response, but saw her head shake as she spoke to the child.  Elam continued to pull me through the forest of people.

Rather like a flock of birds as they glean a field, in which their movement seems totally random, then at some imperceptible signal, they all rise up into flight in synchronization; suddenly there was some sort of a coordinated movement off to our right.  There was a man walking toward us.  Behind him was a large group that was following him, but all the attention of those he passed was riveted on him.

I stopped in my tracks, causing Elam to stumble slightly, because he had been still walking and looking off the other direction.  I barely noticed what happened to Elam, because my entire attention was on this man.  From a physical standpoint, he didn't appear to be anything special, but there was something else, something not visible, that was incredibly special about him.

This man had to be Jesus.

As he walked in our direction, I felt like a self-conscious teenager.  I was so very aware of my own shortcomings, feeling ashamed of myself as if I had been caught doing something I knew was wrong.

As he moved through the crowd, he spoke to various people, seemingly at random.  A woman he spoke to, spoke back and gestured toward a small, sickly looking child sitting on the grass next to her.  Jesus squatted down in front of the child, placing his hands on either side of the boy's face, speaking something and smiling with such fondness, that I was sure this child must be a relative of his.  The boy had a huge grin spread across his face, suddenly he jumped up and wrapped his arms around Jesus.  As I watched, I saw that the mother looked incredibly happy.  I also wondered why I had thought the child looked sickly.

Could it be that I had just witnessed a healing?  A murmur went through the crowd as they responded to  what we had just seen.  Obviously, the crowd believed that it had been a healing.

Jesus resumed his walk through the crowd.  He wove in and out of the people, but it was as if he was moving purposefully toward me.  I was frozen to the spot, watching him come closer and closer.  I found myself experiencing so many different emotions as he came.

As he approached, he looked directly at me.  I looked into his eyes and saw something totally unique.  I don't know what it was about him, but I felt all my unease evaporate.  My feeling of shame and awkwardness were replaced by a sense of peace.  I spoke to him saying, “Peace to you, Rabbi.”

He responded back to me saying, “My Father is good and Has unending peace available to those that love Him.”  As he said this, he looked deep into my eyes and laid his hand upon my shoulder, my injured shoulder.  I was so absorbed that I didn't even pull back.  From his hand was this sensation of heat that was like the warmth of the first warm day of spring after a long, cold winter.

He looked over and spoke to Elam, saying, “Seek the Father, my son.  He wants to be glorified in your heart.” He then moved away to continue on his walk through the crowd.

While he was speaking to Elam, I was noticing that the throbbing pain from my injured shoulder was gone.  Very tentatively and cautiously, I moved my bad arm.  I was amazed to find that there was absolutely no pain!  I was shocked and astonished.  A minute ago, I was impressed because I believed that I had witnessed a healing, but now I have experienced one first-hand!

In addition to the change in how my shoulder felt, there was something else different inside me.  It was similar to the warmth that I felt at his touch, except somehow deeper in my soul.  Before I could examine this new sensation, I was distracted by the activity around me.

While Jesus was still close, three of the men that had been following him through the crowd came up to him.  The tallest of the three said, “Teacher, we should send the crowd away, so they can go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging, because this is such a deserted place.”

Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.”

The faces of the three showed their incredulity.  The middle one spoke, saying, “But Master, we have no more than five loaves and two fish.”

With a note of panic in his voice, another of the trio said, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn't be enough for each of them to have a bite.”

Jesus calmly said, “The Father takes care of His children.  The twelve of you need to have the people sit down on the grass in groups of 50 or 100, then return to me with what bread and fish you have.  Each of the twelve should bring a basket.”

The three men quickly went back and spoke to others.  I could see one of the men directing various members of the group off in different directions.  Shortly, two of the men came over to our left.  Speaking loudly, they were trying to get the people to sit down in groups as Jesus had directed.  The process was not smooth, easy or efficient, but they did finally get everybody sitting down.

Elam and I wound up sitting reasonably close to where Jesus had spoken to us.  Jesus had not moved very far.  He was standing there, involved in a conversation with an old man.  The men, which I presumed were his disciples, came to him.  The man in front of the group was holding a double-handful of fist-sized loaves of bread and a couple of dried fish, and each man was carrying empty basket.

Jesus had the baskets placed on the ground in front of him.  The biggest of the disciples was holding the food in his hands.  Jesus asked for the bread and fish, but since his hands were much smaller than the big man's, he had more trouble holding all the little loaves and the fish.  He lifted the food up over his head, in apparent prayer, to bless it.  As he did so, one of the small loaves slipped out of his grip and fell into the basket at his feet.  I found myself smiling a little as I saw this man wasn't quite as perfect as everybody said.  He continued in prayer and another loaf was dropped.  He began to lower his hands toward the basket and a loaf and a fish dropped out of his hands and into the basket.  These were followed by more, but somehow his hands were still full!  I felt the smile fall off of my face as humor was replaced by astonishment.  The bread and fish were bubbling out of this hands in a continuous stream now.

I could not believe my eyes.  Jesus was still holding a double handful of bread and fish, but yet he was dropping many dozens of pieces into the basket in front of him.  I could see that this basket was growing full and Jesus stepped sideways to start filling another basket.  One of the disciples grabbed the basket and went off to hand out the food.  Soon another basket was full and another man was running off to distribute the food.  Before long, the disciples were running to distribute a basket of food and get the basket back so it could be refilled from the bread and fish bubbling out of the hands of Jesus.

In the midst of watching Jesus open-mouthed, I was startled when a voice spoke next to me.  It was one of the disciples holding out a basket loaded down with bread and fish and saying, “Quickly now, take whatever you want for yourself and your family.”  I grabbed out a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish.  Elam, who is always hungry, grabbed a few more pieces of bread before the disciple moved on to the people on our right.

Interrupted from watching Jesus, I noticed the enormous crown scattered over the hillside.   I spoke to Elam, “There must be thousands of people here.  Look how quickly they are all getting fed.”  Looking across the field of people, we saw that most of the people already had food, but the disciples were still running out to the people with full baskets and back to Jesus with empty ones.

Elam said, “How is he making all that food?”

We turned back to Jesus and saw that he had sat down, he was apparently finished making food for all the people.  We saw him pick up a loaf and bit into it.  I told Elam, “I think Jesus has just performed one of the most amazing miracles since God provided manna to the Israelites, and he looks like nothing significant has even happened.  Who is that man?”

I picked up one of the pieces of bread and took a bite.  Although it looked like a poor-man's barley loaf, it tasted amazing.  It glided across the tongue with the flavor of a fine grain and a taste of honey.  I stared at the small unpretentious bit of bread in astonishment and curiosity.  At my side, I heard Elam speaking through a mouthful of bread, “Wow!  This is really good”

Instead of helping myself to another bite of the wonderful bread, my curiosity had me reaching for a dried fish.  Just like the bread, the fish didn't look like anything special.  I took a bite.  Suddenly my taste buds were shouting in pure pleasure.  Never in my life had I tasted anything like this fish.  Ignoring from the appearance, it was food like this that I had always imagined was served at the table of King Soloman.

We all sat there on the grass in the midst of a huge crowd and enjoyed a meal like we had never experienced before and might never experience again.  We ate our fill and there seemed to be no shortage of food.  I could not believe how much Elam ate, but then I ate a lot myself.

I looked for Jesus.  He and his disciples were no longer where they had been.  Many people we standing up and gathering their possessions, preparing to go home.  We began to discuss whether we should leave.  I told Elam, “While this has been incredible, it appears that everybody is heading home.”

Elam said, “I was hoping to hear Jesus teach, but I guess we missed that.  Since we don't have too far to go, can we stay a little more, just to see if anything else is going to happen?”

I didn't really want to admit it to Elam, but I was also wanting to experience more of Jesus.  I replied, “I guess we can wait a little longer, just so we get back by dusk.”

Elam quickly agreed and we sat back down.  The crowd was slowly thinning out as more and more people headed home.  After a few minutes, one of the disciples of Jesus came around carrying a basket that was two-thirds full of bread and fish.  He said, “Do you have any bread or fish leftover?”
We scanned the ground in our area.  Elam saw a piece of bread a couple of feet behind us.  Picking it up, he saw that it was half eaten.  Turning the eaten side toward the disciple, he said, “Do you want this?”

The disciple replied, “The Master told us to gather up everything that was leftover, so unless you want it, it goes in the basket.”

As Elam placed the bread in the basket, I said, “I saw how he made the food.  Why are you gathering up the leftover food if he can just make more whenever he wants?”

The disciple thought for a moment and replied, “There are a lot of things the Master does that I can't completely understand.  I'll tell you this, I have been with the Master for over a year and there were times that we were hungry, but I have never seen him make food before.  I am still in awe.  From just a handful of bread and fish, he produced enough food that it couldn't have been carried on two donkey carts.”

As the disciple was turning away to continue his pursuit of leftover food, I asked the question that had been nagging at me, “Who is Jesus?”

The disciple stopped short and turned slowly to face me.  With his voice taking on a conspiratorial tone, he said, “In my time with Jesus, I have seen and heard so many amazing things.  Just a few months ago, I was sure he was a prophet on the order of Elijah, but now I'm not sure that is adequate.”

Elam whispered with a voice full of awe, “You mean...he might be the Messiah of God?”

“I...”, the disciple paused as if making up his mind about how to respond and continued with, “I think I have said too much.”  As he turned to go, he said, “Walk in the way of the Lord and see what He reveals to you.”

Watching him go, Elam spoke quietly, “Could Jesus really be the Messiah we have been waiting for?”

In a slight state of shock, I replied, “Maybe.  I don't know.  God is obviously working through him in a powerful way.  He healed my shoulder and he produced all that wonderful food.”

“He healed your shoulder!  When did he do that?  Why didn't you tell me?”

“Oh that, there has been rather a lot going on, but when he spoke to us and placed his hand on me, my shoulder was healed.” I rotated my arm at the shoulder.  “It seems as good as it has ever felt.”

“What a day,” Elam exclaimed, “You were healed and we saw Jesus feed thousands!”

I said, “It was amazing indeed...”

Apparently something of my thoughts was evident in my voice, because Elam suddenly turned toward me and asked, “Is there something else, Uncle Gibbel?”

“I don't know what it means, maybe nothing at all, but when Jesus touched me, there was more than the healing of my shoulder.  I don't even know how to explain what I experienced, what I am experiencing.  It was as if...when he touched me...he planted piece of God within me.  It is know when Moses came down from the mountain and since he had been with God, his face glowed.  He had to wear a veil just so people could be around him.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Well, I feel like I should wear a veil, like I have had such an intimate encounter with the living God that it should show.  All Jesus did was touch me, but I feel changed, much deeper than just my shoulder.  The longer we sit here and I think about this new thing that is inside me, I dread leaving this place, because it was here that I met with God in a totally new way.”

Elam stared at me with big eyes.  Finally he said, “I have never heard you talk this way.”

“I'm not really sure I am the same person you left with this morning.”

After a moment, Elam said, “It looks like most everybody has left, I guess we should head back.”

Feeling a deep sense of disappointment as I accepted the fact that Jesus was gone, I said, “I guess we should.”

We stood up and began walking.  As we crested the first rise, we saw many people walking away from the place where we had been fed.  It was almost like a procession of sorts.  We could see a man I assumed was Jesus at the front, walking side-by-side with another man, but they were being followed by perhaps 100 others.

As we looked at the people, I saw a wonderful, terrifying opportunity, one that I thought I had missed. Suddenly, I made a decision.

I told Elam, “Elam, you have always been like a son to me.  I thank the Lord that you brought me here today, but I am not going back with you.  I need for you to go back and tell your father that I regret that he will not have my help with the crops, but God has called me and I must go.”

Elam said with a voice that was a cross between being stern and being panicked, “Uncle, listen to yourself.  This isn't you.  You have always been steadfast and predictable.  What are you thinking?  Let us just begin the walk home, please.”

With haste, I turned to face Elam.  I said, “Elam, don't worry, my decision is not the rantings of a lunatic.  It is also not my decision.  I have been called by the Living God.  I have no choice, I must go.  Give my regards to all of the family.  I am counting on you to pass on my message, but as for me, I must go.”

With that, I gave Elam a quick embrace an left him standing there, open-mouthed, watching me run down the hill.  I felt a huge sense of elation as I ran toward Jesus. 

I have never regretted that unforgettable decision on that most incredible day.

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