“One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about 5,000 in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”
—The Gospel of John
The hero of this parable isn’t Andrew. And, despite this legendary miracle, the hero isn’t Jesus, either.
The heroic figure in this story is the anonymous the boy.
But perhaps we know more about him than we think.
We know that he came to see Jesus, and apparently alone because there is no mention of any parent or adult with him. So he is brave, questing and probably quite spiritual. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a youth.
And he brought five barley loaves and two fish. Nobody else in the crowd had any food readily visible. Why did the boy have the loaves and fishes? If he had traveled far, the bread and fish might have been all the food he had to survive the journey. Or, if he’d come only a short distance, the boy might have arrived prepared to share his food with others. For that is what he certainly did.
Either way, he is also of a giving, compassionate nature. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a boy. And that makes me wonder.
I especially wonder what Jesus said to the boy as Andrew and the other disciples were telling 5,000 people to sit down. Jesus didn’t just walk up and take the five barley loaves and two fish from the youngster. Of course not. He would have spoken to the boy about the hunger of the people all around him, and the wondrous possibilities if the boy gave him the loaves and fishes.
Jesus once said that unless one becomes like a little child it will be impossible for them to enter the kingdom of heaven. This parable shows us what he meant by that.
The boy didn’t make a fuss about giving Jesus all of the food he’d brought with him. There was no argument. Their conversation attracted nobody’s attention because there is nothing written about it. All the words were spoken quietly between Jesus and the boy.
Nor did the boy question Jesus’ ability to feed so many people with so little food. No, Andrew, the adult, had done that. The boy simply gave Jesus the five loaves and two fish, fully expecting Jesus to feed everyone there.
The boy clearly had the strong faith of innocence, the kind of faith that could walk on water. I wonder if Jesus saw himself in the boy, recognized a kindred spirit. I suspect that he did.
No, there would have been no famous miracle without this unknown boy who knew the kingdom of heaven when he saw it. And, standing there with Jesus, that child made the kingdom of heaven manifest to the 5,000. And to us.
I wonder where in the world that boy is today.
Here’s a thought:
You’ve got a barley loaf. I have a fish. Let’s go in search of him.
After all, he may be waiting somewhere for us with Jesus.
And if we do undertake this journey and do somehow find him, we will also find ourselves.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.”
—the Gospel of Mark
The apostles’ energy reserves were drained to the dregs.
They’d walked everywhere telling as many people as they could about the Kingdom of Heaven. They had blisters on their feet and aches and pains all over.
Jesus heard the fatigue in their voices.
Saw the lines of weariness on their faces.
Discerned the stoop of shoulders.
Jesus had been there and felt all of that.
He understood the danger of burning up all of one’s physical, spiritual and emotional fuel without pausing to re-fill the tank.
Such self-neglect could have dire consequences to them personally and to their mission.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus regularly went off “to a lonely place” by himself, re-charging his batteries through prayer, contemplation and just plain rest.
He knew the prescription the Apostles needed to have filled for their rejuvenation: Go off to that lonely place and rest.
Jesus’ advice is timelessly wise. But going off to a lonely place can be nearly impossible because most of us carry the crowded world and all of its incessant distractions everywhere with us:
Smart phones. The digital umbilical cord connecting us to static chatter and hubbub.
Can’t live with them.
Can’t live without them.
When the Apostles went off to that quiet hillside by the sea for their spiritual retreat, they did not take the compulsive demands of social media with them.
Texts and emails did not call upon their time. The only tweets came from the birds singing among the trees at dawn. There were no incoming Instagram messages to respond to. If you’d said “Facebook” to them, they would have wondered what in the world you were talking about.
Yes, the apostles could have found effective ways to incorporate social media into their mission, spreading The Gospel by streaming Jesus live, putting the Sermon on the Mount on YouTube.
Just as all of us are fortunate to have social media as a useful tool to expand our ability to communicate and connect. As you and I are doing now. But we need to manage our social media rather than be managed by it.
Today, Jesus would have this additional piece of advice for his Apostles: “Oh, yes, and before you go off to that lonely place to rest, leave your smart phones with me. Otherwise, you will never find a lonely place. Every hillside, shaded glen and mountaintop will be filled to overflowing with the world and its distractions.”
We’d be wise to listen to him. Our lonely place might be a quiet room in the house, the shade of a tree in the back yard, the sanctuary of our church on a Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon, or some favorite trail at a local state park.
When we go to those lonely places to re-charge, let’s turn our smart phones off and leave them behind. Without the world’s siren song, we can better hear the small, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit in our soul.
And take it back with us into the world when our rest is done and there is more work to do.
I’ve had some faithful companions wonder how to pronounce the Aramaic translation of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” that is in this week’s blog, The Language Of Love. A very good question and I should have stated how I pronounce the words, as a helpful hint for those who want to join in speaking the words of Jesus in his own language as part of their daily prayer. Here goes:
“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”
I pronounce it:
Saulshahnee emmasawyou lahtbearee leebah tubahone lahbeel deeknown itbahyune
A handful of years ago, I bought an English/Aramaic dictionary because I wanted to learn something of the language of Jesus.
Feel how some of the words that he spoke felt on my lips and tongue.
How they sounded in my voice, but imagining I was able to hear him, instead.
If we were able to journey back in time to the hillsides, shore and mountains along the Sea of Galilee, of course, we wouldn’t understand a word that Jesus was saying.
We’d have to decipher the meaning by listening carefully to the timbre of his voice.
By the look in his eyes toward us as he spoke them.
And from the reaction by those around us who understood the language but were, in many cases, stunned by the meaning of what Jesus was saying.
All of his words were turning the world upside down and inside out in ways that were as unexpectedly hopeful as a second sunrise on a day that had promised only total eclipse.
So, I decided to translate one of The Beatitudes from English into Aramaic. I don’t know how successful I was but I do know the words are genuinely Aramaic. They are the language Jesus spoke every day.
I don’t have a pronunciation guide for the vowels and combinations of consonants, so I guess at the exact sound of the words, just as you may do now:
“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”
Or: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
I have written that sentence at the end of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer by my bedside. I read Compline every night and the last words I speak, quietly but aloud, are those that Jesus spoke.
It is a humble exercise. I only want to ensure that at least once, somewhere in this world, the language of Jesus is heard speaking one of Christ’s sentences of love.
It would be beautiful if you’d join me so that we can become a chorus, speaking the language of love. Jot them down. Put them in your prayer book or Bible. Speak them some time.
Whatever the words say—even if I’ve botched the translation—what they mean to us as we speak them in remembrance of him is all that matters.
And maybe speaking with Jesus’ voice will help us walk those words out into the world with greater strength and purpose in the morning.
I do know that hearing them every night brings Jesus a little closer to me as I turn out the light and let the stars above shine wherever they can to all who are praying in the darkness to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to them.
Jesus answering our own quiet prayer in the suddenly bright night.
“He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
At some point in our lives, we’ve all wanted to shake someone’s dust off our feet. Perhaps we are trying to do so at this very moment.
Nobody goes through life without encountering somebody who, in one way or another, doesn’t welcome us and refuses to hear us. Such hurtful encounters can leave us covered in the metaphorical “dust” of that moment.
We come home from work and we bring that dust with us.
We bring the rudeness home.
We bring the refusal to listen.
And we tell our family all about it.
“You would not believe how rude this so-and-so was today!” we report, feeling our tension and anger rise all over again.
That so-and-so isn’t literally at the dinner table with us, but that so-and-so’s dust is all over our feet, so to speak.
In fact, we can sometimes feel like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comicstrip. Pig-Pen was a mess. A walking cloud of dust and dirt. And we can be just like him.
That so-and-so’s dust isn’t just on the soles of our feet. That so-and-so’s dust covers us from head to foot. It gets on the furniture, embedded in rug fibers, covers the dog, collects on lampshades, dimming the light.
Sometimes, it can even feel like some of it is dusting our soul.
And that’s not good. It’s not what Jesus wanted for his disciples as he sent them out to preach about the kingdom of heaven. And it’s not what Jesus wants for us.
That’s why Jesus gave them—and us—really good advice.
What better way for the disciples to leave an unfriendly place completely behind than by ensuring they don’t carry any part of the unfriendliness with them as they journey forward.
Not even the dust.
But Jesus was talking about more than literal dust. He was talking about that metaphorical dust, too.
Jesus knew from personal experience that someone’s “dust” on our feet can soon feel like “baggage” in our heart, our mind and our soul. A burden we carry around, weighing us down with a whole menagerie of negative emotions.
Who needs that?
It is important to share key moments of our lives with our loved ones. The happy moments of fulfillment and the “dusty” encounters of frustration and disappointment. Doing so can be part of the process of shaking that so-and-so’s dust off our feet.
But it doesn’t work if, in our minds, we turn right back around and walk through that so-and-so’s dust all over again. Which, being human, is so easy to do. Been there. Done that.
But I’d rather be Linus than Pig-Pen.
So, let’s you and I stop lugging that so-and-so’s “baggage” around on a backwards journey.
Let’s shake that dust right off of our feet and keep on moving forward.
Day by day.
Soon enough, our soles will feel the warm, soft touch of green pastures.