I was there. You’ve heard about how Jesus fed the five thousand? How with a few loaves and fishes, he satisfied the hunger of the great crowd that had traveled into the country to hear his teachings? Have you heard? Yeah? Well, I was there.
I saw with my own eyes how Jesus lifted the food to heaven and asked Yahweh to make the blessings abundant. I felt the excitement of the people as doubts were transformed into hope that maybe – wow – maybe there would be enough. Maybe even I – near the back edges of the crowd – might get to taste a miracle. A buzz went through the crowd ahead as more and more people received the baskets and turned with excitement to pass along the blessing to friends and children and the strangers around them. I had a bite of the miracle loaves. I had a taste of the miracle fish. I shared in the excitement - seeing on the faces around me the joy and hope that just a taste of a miracle could produce.
Of course, miracles is why most of us were there. We’d heard what a special teacher he was. But teachers we have in every synagogue in every town. What drew us out to walk for miles into the country were the miracles. Who doesn’t need a miracle?
An extraordinary shift in circumstances – in body, mind, or spirit. A hope beyond reason that a hardship might be lifted. A hope beyond hope that the suffering might stop. The suffering that affects the whole family, the whole village, the whole world. What family doesn’t know suffering? What person isn’t affected by it? Doesn’t feel the pain – if not their own pain - then the pain of a loved one?
Me, I’ve experienced miracles before. I myself have been healed. As a child they told me I’d never walk. I was very young but I remember it well. My parents had taken me to every doctor in the area. The doctors helped to relieve some of the pain that ached deep in my bones. They gave us ointments to help with the chafing caused by the braces. I know it cost my parents dearly. I know their relatives scolded them for expenses they couldn’t afford. Taking food out of the mouths of my siblings to find a cure for me.
But I also remember the pain in my parents’ eyes when my legs ached so bad that I cried out - I would look up at them – and I could see my suffering mirrored in their faces. So, they kept trying.
One day - when I was about ten - when dealing with the aching and the hobbling had become just part of who I was and how I got through each day, news came to our village about a healer. A woman from the hills beyond Jerruba. She was coming to our village to see another family – the mother in that family had some terrible disease in her bowels I think. So, when the woman, the healer came, my parents took me to see her.
I remember the aroma. When we entered the home – instead of the usual food smells – we were greeted with a strange and wonderful perfume. When she lifted her arms or moved about the room it wafted - a deep earthy subtle strong smell. She anointed my head and my parents’ heads with oil. She put her strong soft hands on my knees. I could feel the warmth from her hands spread down, deep down into the bones. It spread all the way down through my aching ankles right to my toes.
She looked up into my eyes from where she was kneeling and in her eyes there was a great twinkling joy – like sunlight on ripping water. And I walked from that place, from that day, without pain.
It changed everything. And it changed nothing. I mean – it was truly wonderful to be able to walk – to be able to help with the chores – to be able to get about without being pulled in a cart – to be able to sleep without the company of agony. My parents told everyone they saw, everyone they met. I was quite a celebrity for quite a while.
But for all the wonder of the healing – it really changed nothing. In my village I was still an outsider. They had always known me as a cripple and even though I could walk – they still treated me as someone – different. Even my parents and brothers and sisters had a hard time letting me take on the chores and my share of the struggle to get through each day. I’d always been the family pet and even though I did manage to make sure I pulled my own weight – doing more than my share even - they still treated me differently from the rest.
And I still saw the suffering in my parents’ eyes. Now, it wasn’t a reflection of my pain, it had different sources. They suffered over their ailing parents, and every member of the family who was ill and hadn’t escaped pain like me. They suffered through long winters with debts to pay and never quite enough money to meet all the needs. They suffered over whether they were living a life close to the Torah – when the Rabbi scolded them – scolding the whole village really – but i saw how they took it to heart.
So, I left. As soon as I was old enough – after Bar Mitvah I was a man – and so I walked away from who I had been and began a search for who I might become. I joined caravans and traveled as a labourer and camel-tender. I learned the trade from an old man – how to care for sick animals. How to mix herbs for the stomach and salves for their sores.
It was a trade I could take with me wherever I went. I became a healer of sorts. Learning – always learning in each situation from each animal what cure might work this time.
But the cure I was looking for – every day every mile every new place – was a cure for my heart. Something to fill that empty place within me. Something to hold onto when everything else just slipped through my fingers again. Something was missing. Something un-nameable – a hunger, an ache, a thirst, a longing.
There were ways I found that seemed to be what I needed. My work gave me an identity – a feeling of accomplishment. But I failed so many times to bring about the healing in the beasts I cared for and to see their suffering – it reminded me of my parents suffering and the ache in my heart was strong.
I fell in love and found happiness in a wonderful woman. We lived for many years together. But when we lost our child, that empty place within me grew wide and deep and it swallowed me whole and I lost her too.
I turned to wine and found that I could drown out that aching – fill that hole for just a while. But there wasn’t enough wine in the world to fill that hole in my soul.
Another caravan, and another, and another. And one brought me here – to this place – where I got a chance to hear this Jesus who I’d been hearing so much about as I traveled. He taught and talked and kept our attention with stories about how funny and how sad life is and how Yahweh laughs and Yahweh cries right along with us – every step of the way.
And then, like I was telling you, he fed our bodies along with our minds, with a miracle of the LORD’s abundance. More than enough. Just as he taught.
But I knew that miracles – as exciting and wonderful as they are – change very little – really. And so, after the meal, when most of the people began to draw away into small camps for the night or journey home – I drew nearer to Jesus. He was still teaching. Now to a much smaller crowd. He no longer had to shout and spoke in quieter tones – much slower but still with a great passion.
“I am the Bread of Life” I heard him say. “Don’t waste your whole life striving for perishable food. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food that only the LORD provides.”
I knew right away what he was talking about. He was talking about what I’d been searching for – what I’d never been able to put a name to – what I’d never been able to put my fingers on. He said “Whoever aligns themselves with me – whoever wants what I want – whoever eats and drinks the food I eat – digesting the truth of the Father’s love into their very being – will never hunger or thirst again.”
There were Pharisees there – I could tell by their robes and by their questions – I could tell they weren’t listening – they didn’t get it. They argued with Jesus and tried to take him off track with questions about scripture and “by what authority are you making these claims” and so on…
But it was the end of the day and Jesus had spent his patience on the crowd. He gave it to them straight. “Don’t bicker about this. You know nothing. All you know – all that really matters - comes from my Father – the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Either you get it or you don’t. Either your body digests it – you know – and you know because it becomes you and you become it - it changes you – or - it comes out the other end of you – and you get nothing from it. I can’t help that – that’s up to the way the Maker made you.”
And then he went silent. They tried to argue more. They tried to draw him out. And when he would say no more, they left. They all left - shaking their heads or throwing up their hands.
Well, not everyone. I stayed. And a much, much smaller group stayed. Quite a motley crew really. As I looked around me, there was nothing in their appearances that made them seem the same. They were all of different tribes, from different places - some wealthy, some hardened by labour - men and women, children too. He asked us “Don’t you want to leave too?”
One spoke what was on all of our hearts “Master – where can we go? You have all we truly need.”
Then Jesus prayed with us and blessed us and assured us that each one of us could taste that food any time we reached for it. He assured us that the LORD was close and near and with a breath we could fill ourselves with all that heaven has to offer.
And I know that what he taught, what he gave me that day, was of heaven. I know because it lasts. It hasn’t faded like the excitement and the passion of a miracle can fade. It hasn’t faded as each passing day brings challenge and trouble and new encounters with the pain and hurts of the world.
Oh sure I get lost in my troubles and my struggles and all the day to day, moon to moon, season to season sufferings of this life’s journey.
But then – I notice. Something – some bird, some cloud, some song, some scripture, some stranger comes my way – and I remember to breathe it in deep – and I see it again. I see how every thing, every moment, every hurt and every joy is a miracle. I see how heaven is all around me – how all the saints and angels and everyone I’ve ever known are close – closer than I know – keeping watch and keeping time and keeping the Father’s will alive in the world and in me.
And with that little taste of eternity – I am full – and all my thirsts for all the things I think I need are quenched. And I give thanks to Jesus for the life he gave me – eternity in the midst of this day.