Almost every story is about more than one thing. Some stories are about the same thing for years, and then all of a sudden, they’re about something different. That’s how I felt about the story of the loaves and the fishes this year. (If anyone knows why this is the only time we say “fishes” instead of “fish,” please let me know.)
The plot is familiar to most. Thousands and thousands of people to feed, boy offers five loaves and two fish to Jesus, presto chango, full bellies and twelve baskets of scraps left over—hopefully bread scraps. Fish scraps would either smell nasty or require a lot of salt and a serious and immediate group preservation effort.
There are a lot of ways to think about this story, and most of the ones that I’ve considered over the years focus on the multiplication of the food. But this year it occurred to me—or maybe someone else said it and I am stealing her idea—that before any multiplying occurred, the young boy had to offer the loaves and fishes, and he had to do so foolishly.
Why even bother to offer such a paltry amount of food when there are thousands who need to be fed? Why open a soup kitchen when there is chronic homelessness? Why offer a blanket to a refugee who’s just left her entire life behind? Why send a card when someone’s beloved partner or parent has died?
None of these offerings will fix what’s wrong. None of them are sufficient, yet they are what we have and so it is imperative that we offer them. Without the boy’s gift, Jesus is looking at one unhappy crowd. Without you and I sharing our gifts, we’re looking at an empty world.
The multiplying is not up to us. We need only to find the courage to show up in the face of the impossible and say, here, take what I have. That’s when the miracles start.