The Bible story is commonly know as "The Feeding of the Five Thousand." You can read it for yourself in Matthew 14, or Mark 6, or Luke 9, or John 6. Actually, it's one of the few stories that each gospel writer thought important enough to include.
The basics of the story are this: Jesus and his disciples are out in the countryside enjoying some time together. According to Luke, it's a debriefing time after the disciples had been out ministering. A large crowd gathers and meal time is approaching. The disciples solution is for Jesus to send the crowd away so they will boost the local economy by dropping 8 months' wages on the local shop owners.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, found his dinner in the lunch bag of a local boy and thought it best to make Jesus aware of his discovery. Perhaps the boy had enough to share with one or two others, but how far can five buns and a couple small fish go?
Jesus had a better idea for the potential sandwiches and instructed the crowd sit on the grass in groups. Luke says groups of about fifty.
Have you ever sat in a group of fifty? Fifty isn't a small group. That lunch would look ridiculous to fifty men. We're looking at one bun for every ten guys in the share circle. Guys will be thinking: I've eaten boogers bigger than this crumb.
Yet they're in groups of fifty.
100 groups of 50.
Then Jesus thanked God for the food and the disciples began to pass it around. Everyone ate as much as they wanted. They were all filled up. We get the idea that no one left hungry.
And not to leave a mess, or perhaps so the disciples could have a breakfast of leftovers, Jesus gave instructions for clean up. "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." He instructed.
Then each gospel records that 12 baskets were filled with the remnants.
Usually when this story is taught the miracle of the multiplication of the food is expounded upon. I mean, it looks like they picked up more leftovers than they had to begin with. And that was after 5000 men ate their fill. There had to be serious amounts of food to accomplish that. I'm not sure I can even imagine what food for 5000 of me must look like.
Today, I was struck by two other miracles within the story that I don't think I've ever heard mentioned.
The first one I call the miracle of the sit.
The group of 5000 men were divided into groups of 50 and seated on the grass.
I have a hard enough time getting a group of 20 youth to split up into groups of 5 on their own. How long did this process take? It's pretty easy to look around and count me plus four equals five, we're done. How did making groups of 50 go?
None the less, groups of 50 were made and it sounds like the meal didn't become breakfast.
This amazes me. That must have been some holy chaos on par with the creation of the world. I wish I was there to observe it. I would love to see how that feat was pulled off.
Then there is what I call the miracle of the weaver.
Where did they get 12 baskets from?
There is no previous mention of baskets.
I was at an event as a kid that was free. Well, they told you it was free but half way through buckets that may, or may not, have previously contained Kentucky Fried Chicken were passed through the crowd to collect donations. It's hard to enjoy a free event when the Colonel is staring you down. How can you not give something while under the watchful eye of a high ranking official?
I understand now that this is a common practice among "free" Christian events that traces roots back to the Biblical story told above. Only instead of wanting baskets full of leftover food the event organizers hope to have baskets left over of cold hard cash.
But in Jesus day they could not go steal, or "borrow" as these groups say, paper buckets from a local fried poultry retailer. They had baskets because someone brought baskets. Why was this individual cut out of the scriptures? Why is their contribution to the story not important enough to include? We know that the lunch was brought by a nameless boy, why don't we know why, or simply that, one gentleman from the town was notorious for carrying a dozen baskets wherever he went.
Or maybe some guy's wife said: "Honey, don't forget to take the baskets. You never know when they'll come in handy."
Or maybe the crowd mugged a traveling basket merchant.
Or was this grass really straw, and what we don't know is the Bartholomew was wicked good at weaving and he whipped up a dozen baskets?
I guess what I'm saying is that we don't know enough about the baskets. I wish I knew more. I'm itching for the baskets to get some attention.
I have other basket related questions. How large were they? Because the miracle seems greater if these baskets were huge. Were they float a baby down the Nile big, or the first century version of a ring box small?
I guess I bring all this up because here we see that even in a story, that we can read and re-read hundreds of times, there is always something in the Bible to make us think. And while thinking about the foolishness of how to get men organized in groups of 50, or what it looks like for a guy to have twelve baskets hidden under his tunic, are not particularly major theological issues, or even issues important enough for God to make sure one of the four gospel writers included, they have gotten me thinking more about an important afternoon in the life of one I strive to be like.
In life I find myself coming up with a lot of excuses for not doing stuff. Usually those excuses are some version of "that's impossible." "We can't take youth on a mission trip there, that's impossible." "We can't hold an outreach event of that magnitude, that's impossible." "We can't actually expect people to serve in that way, it's not possible."
I read Jesus words "nothing is impossible with God" and I act as if Jesus wasn't telling the truth. My actions demonstrate a heart that believes God is limited.
Jesus knew we would struggle with understanding what "nothing is impossible with God" means, so he showed us an excellent example of something crazy amazing so that we might go, "if God can turn one meal into 5000 meals what else can he do?"
Perhaps this story is so important because in it I come closer to living more like Jesus who lived knowing fully the meaning of "nothing is impossible with God."
May you also gain a better understanding of those words of Jesus demonstrated in this story full of miracles.