I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church potluck that ran out of food. Maybe it happens, but I can’t imagine that it does very often.
They’re a beautiful thing, potluck meals, especially church ones. They’re a culinary adventure that could include a variety of things, things you may love and others you may not like at all . But it always seems to balance out. You never really know what you’re going to get, just that there always seems to be so much of it. And more than enough to feed everyone that’s there, including those who may have forgot to bring something. Or couldn’t.
It’s a miracle, really, isn’t it?
There’s one miracle story that appears in all the gospels in the Bible. It’s the miracle of Jesus feeding the crowd with only loaves and fishes. Each of the gospels tells the story with it’s own unique touches from the perspective of the teller, all avenues worth exploring, but the basic plot is the same. Jesus is teaching a large crowd when it gets late and everyone is hungry. There is no where to get food, but there’s a few loaves and fishes, not enough for a few to eat let alone the huge crowd that’s there. But Jesus blesses them and the food is passed around, miraculously feeding everyone until they are “satisfied” and there are twelve baskets full of leftovers.
That’s a miracle. There’s no doubt that’s a miracle, whether you believe Jesus miraculously fed the crowd with only the loaves and fishes or Jesus, with an extreme act of generosity, inspired others to share all that they had so that everyone was fed. Both of those are miracles and show the power of Jesus.
No, I don’t think the second one “explains it away.” Nor do I think it was an act of social manipulation, that Jesus guilted the crowd into sharing by his act of generosity. I think this is a miracle not only of the moment of Jesus sharing, but of his teaching leading up to it. The story doesn’t say exactly what Jesus said and did that day, just that he taught and healed. But the crowd followed him and stayed with him, even to being hungry. Love inspires love. That we might look at this miracle so cynically misses the point of Jesus’ message, both in word and action.
All we see in this moment is what the disciples see: a crowd of hungry people and a scarcity of food to feed them. It’s one of our greatest fears, not having enough. So great is our fear that we would hold on to it – whatever “it” is – protect and conserve it, hide it if we must. You’d need a miracle to make us part from it.
That Jesus wants to feed the people is an act of compassion, yes, and the sharing of the food an act of generosity, absolutely. But I think Jesus also knows that, in that gathering of people sharing in the community that’s been built around their time together hearing and seeing his message of love, healing and wholeness, Jesus knows that there is an abundance of just that, love.
Perhaps some people found they had food to share. Perhaps some didn’t. Perhaps some wouldn’t and perhaps some couldn’t. Perhaps some people came to a better understanding of what it means to be satisfied and shared without fear because there was more than enough.
And there was. In every account of this story, there are leftovers. A lot of leftovers. The storyteller doesn’t say what happens to them, but I like to think in that time of sharing, the community figured out who needed the most. And that’s who it went home with.
I’ve noticed that can happen with church potlucks, too. Sure, some leftovers go home in the pot they came in. But, more often than not, I think the person who brought that realizes the abundance they have and is more than happy to share.
I like to think that, at the end of the day, the people who took “leftovers” home with them shared them with others, too. And not just the food. I like to think they sat down with others and said “let me tell where this food came from. It’s a miracle.”