Two Fish

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost  |  John 6:1-21

Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts related to the Sunday reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. A study in practical theology.

Two Fish

Why is this miracle so popular—the feeding of a crowd of people near the Sea of Galilee? It is the miracle found in all four of the gospels, and it is odd that this one claims such attention. Jesus makes blind people see, heals people with a touch or a word, even brings the dead back to life, and we gloss over the details. Let him feed a crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish, and we keep talking about it.

Only one other miracle holds our attention this way—Jesus walking on the water of the same sea. Oh, we talk about his resurrection, but not in this way, and we tend to put the resurrection story in a category by itself. Ask any child in Christendom to tell about the miracles Jesus performed, and she will tell you about the loaves and the fishes and about walking on water.

We get it, on some level. The tale of feeding the multitudes fills our own hunger for security, addresses our fears that our own needs will not be met. In gathering the people, Jesus is our mother. In giving food, he is our father.

Loaves and Fishes by Lambert Lombard
Loaves and Fishes by Lambert Lombard, 1505-1566. Museum Rockoxhuis, Antwerp.

It is a story of comfort, needfulness, shelter. Something deep within us responds, seeing our simplest, basic needs of rest and food being met by the image of God. This is not a God of the heavens, or of distant thrones or fire and thunder. This is God choosing to be present in the sharing of a simple loaf of bread.

This is God demonstrating the divine in the commonplace. It is epiphany in breadcrumbs.

As to walking on the water, who would not wish to do such a thing? We would revel like children in such a power, to feel our bare feet supported by the waves.

We suspect that our lives are ephemeral, shifting around us like water. If only we could learn to rest in the currents that we fear will drown us, to trust in the continuity of change to support us, then merely walking on water would seem a simple thing.

Perhaps it is no mystery as to why we tell each other the stories of these two miracles, no mystery as to why we treasure them above so many others. A blind man who sees is wonderful, and we sense that in some times and some ways each of us is blind. A sick person is healed, and we realize that any of us may succumb to illness. We accept that death comes to each of us, if a chariot of fire does not Elijah us away, but that is no match for our present awareness of the transience of life, the denial enabling us to imagine we are walking on solid ground.

All of us respond to hunger. All of us need rest. All of us need to feel that we are standing and not sinking.

It is no miracle that we tell these stories. It is only human.

Having these stories to tell? That is a God thing.

Loaves and Fishes by Tintoretto
“Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti): The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” (13.75) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/13.75. (March 2014)