Many of us are pretty familiar with the story in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of Mark when Jesus feeds the 5000 (read here). Jesus uses 5 loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5000 people and then, on top of that miracle, there’s enough food left to fill up 12 baskets. As I’ve grown up in the church, I went from thinking the story was quite literally about people filling up on bread and fish to a more nuanced understanding of metaphors. Now I’m mostly of the thought that the story is about a greater sustenance. Maybe the people were so spiritually filled that they needed no food or maybe this story is a reference to God/Jesus being the bread of life. Typical of the Bible, it most likely has a lot of interpretations. But yesterday I thought about Jesus, or “human God” as I like to think of him, literally feeding that many people with that little food.
For a little bit of background, “human God” is one of my favorite phrases/concepts right now. Because while we often call Jesus God’s “son”, in the Christian tradition, we also recognize the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as the Trinity. Three-in-one. One in the same. Jesus is God’s way of understanding our human experience in the most literal way possible: becoming human. When I cry out in anguish, I know that God has experienced that as well. When I am full of laughter and joy, I know God had some belly laughs of Her own.
And so, when someone told me we needed to prepare 80 plates of food for comida (essentially a late lunch here in Mexico), I knew that God had at one point stood before a crowd of 5000 with some bread and fish and probably initially thought “yikes.” And when we were preparing the plates and someone came into the kitchen to announce we needed 30 more, despite the fact that we were already low on beans and potatoes, I thought “how far can we make this food go?” On top of all of this, the running water was out (as happens from time to time) so we had to use all of the stored-up water in our “garrafones” (water jugs). This led to filling water bottles up only half way in order to try to preserve resources and help as many as possible.
At the shelter, we are often hoping our resources go as far as possible. The shelter doesn’t receive any official aid, rather it is supported by a local Catholic parish and the surrounding community through donations. Sometimes these donations are toilet paper, bags of rice, pasta, soap, and other nonperishables. Sometimes, it’s a group of women hauling in giant pots of hot meals. Sometimes it’s volunteers themselves running out to the store in the middle of cooking to get that one ingredient that would complete the meal. We rarely ever have 12 baskets of food left over, but the shelter has fed over 5000 with what we have (fortunately not all at once!). We fill water bottles as full as we can and that is enough. We have to do the same with the clothing and blankets we have as well. Migrants are often coming from more tropical climates and while days in Mexico are somewhat temperate (averaging in the low 70s at this time of year), the nights can get cold and many don’t have the materials to stay warm. We do our best to make sure everyone has enough and while it’s difficult with limited supplies and high demand, no one ever goes cold.
I know many read the story about Jesus feeding the 5000 and think that it’s about God telling us to trust that what we need will be provided for us or what others need will be provided for them. But in my opinion, it would be amiss to assume that provisions will be made without effort on our parts. I admire those in the community who are providing out of their own pockets to help migrants who may not have the resources to do for themselves right now, but there are many underlying causes that need to be addressed as well. We’ve all heard that there’s enough money and resources to eliminate issues of hunger and homelessness, and yet many are fleeing their countries because of economic turmoil and worsening agricultural conditions. Many of these issues are related to the worsening issue of climate change and the greed of those in power. We cannot simply pray for our fish and bread to go as far as it possibly can; changes that would benefit oppressed and disadvantaged people require work and demand on the parts of people, especially for Christians who are told not to let our neighbors go hungry or unclothed. Personally, I believe in God’s presence in our world, but I don’t want to pray for things I am not willing to work towards. I cannot pray for people experiencing homelessness if I don’t want to make demands for affordable housing and fair wages. I cannot pray for people working in agricultural communities, if I don’t want to make demands for climate change policies that would protect their line of work.
There is something beautiful about having enough food to feed a large crowd and for communities to join together to support those in need, but I can’t imagine that God’s plan for us is to hope that miracles keep happening when we have the power to dig at the deeper, systematic issues. “Human God” made the bread and fish sufficient for a crowd of 5000, but he also fought against greed and corrupt powers in his daily life. I don’t look at the issues we, as a society, are facing right now and assume that it will be easy to implement changes because I’m human and I know how hard it is to confront big issues like these. But God knows too, because God was willing to experience it as we do. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has a motto, “God’s Work, Our Hands.” It’s even on one of the t-shirts I wear to work regularly. God knows the work we’ve been called to do. God did it and now it’s our turn to continue it. God put some BIG work in my hands, but She also put it in yours. Together, we can feed a lot more than 5000.