This past Sunday, many churches read Matthew’s version (14:13-21) of the feeding of the five thousand. In this miracle, which features in all four Gospels, Jesus blesses five loaves and two fish, and with them his disciples feed a huge crowd of people. In modern times, some understand this as a supernatural miracle, that Jesus multiplied the food, while others see it as a human miracle, that Jesus’ compassion and generosity inspired those who brought snacks with them to share with their neighbors such that everyone got their fill.
Either way, the miracle seems unimaginable today. Setting aside the question of whether or not we can imagine the supernatural multiplication of loaves and fish, in a world where lifesaving drugs and vaccines must only be sold for a huge profit and important but unprofitable things on which we all depend like schools, roads, and postal service must fight for every penny, it’s unimaginable that a man who could magically multiply bread would just give that bread away out of compassion rather than selling it or exchanging it for favors and influence. In a society where mass unemployment, an unprecedented wave of evictions, and more than 150,000 deaths from a novel disease have failed to elicit a united societal response, it’s unimaginable that that a crowd of five thousand would have the collective generosity to share their carefully brought meals with the strangers around them.
Yet this unimaginable miracle is exactly how God, in contrast to our world today, operates. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price,” the Lord calls out in Isaiah (55:1). The feeding of the five thousand reminds us that God’s loving generosity is infinite, and that in the kingdom of God things that are unimaginable in the world are not only possible but commonplace.
Furthermore, according to Matthew, Jesus first instructed his disciples to feed the crowd and then, after breaking the loaves, gave them to the disciples to distribute. This reminds Jesus’ disciples today that, while God is the source of our food, we are the hands through which God gives that food to those in need; even now, God, working in us, can make the unimaginable real.