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between-our-steps-2016-dec-21-doubleCrowds of people flowed from towns and villages to follow Jesus into the wilderness. Though he needed some time apart, he looked with the eyes of compassion and recognized their need, their hunger, and their fear. He took time to help them.

As it gets near dark, his followers tell him to send the crowd away to find food. They only brought enough for their group. Jesus tells them to feed the crowd with what they have. "With five loaves and two fish?!" they complain.

Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, breaks it, and passes it out. Each time it is broken there is enough to pass on and break again. Everyone is fed, with left overs.

When I was a teenager, there was a popular explanation. I was told, "It's all about selfishness. People hadn't come out to the wilderness without food, but when they looked at what they had, and how many people were there, everybody kept their food hidden. When Jesus is willing to share, people add the food they have to what he is sharing. The miracle was the transformation of the attitude of the crowd."

This makes the miracle seem plausible, but those who recounted the story and recorded it for us did not need to understand how it happened. The point was the compassion Jesus showed, and how hard it was for the disciples to follow his lead. The disciples planned only for themselves and were not willing to think about the needs of the crowd. Jesus wants to transform them into people who look beyond themselves, who look at the whole community with compassion so that they see of the needs of all.

This reminds me of a traditional story. In an area that had been hit by famine, there was a town where people were reluctant to share. There was not enough to go around, so what they had they kept hidden. One day a man came to town carrying a large cauldron. People barred their doors and closed their windows, worried he would ask them for food. But he did not.

They watched threw slats in the windows while he collected firewood, filled the cauldron with water, and set it on the fire. Then he threw five small stones into the soup pot. He sat and watched the water heat up.

Somebody got too curious to keep hiding. Coming out, they asked the man what he was doing. "Making soup." The person peeked into the pot. "With stones." "Oh yes, these are magic soup stones. Sit and watch with me and I will share the soup when it is ready."

The person sat down, and the man shared the kind of story you tell while you wait for soup to cook. After a while, they got to their feet. "I have a bone with a bit of meat on it that I was saving for my soup, but I'll add it to yours if that is alright." "If you wish," said the man.

When a neighbour saw the bone go in the pot, they came out and asked what was up. "He's making soup with magic stones," said the first person. The neighbour sniffed the pot, thought it was beginning to smell good, but it needed something. "I have one turnip that I would like to add, if I may." "If you like," said the cook.

And the neighbour brought the turnip, cut it up and poured the pieces into the pot. Another person slipped out to investigate, tested the steam that really was starting to smell good. They had two potatoes to spare.

Now that there was a group around the fire, shyer people were happy to come and check what was happening, and soon all the doors of the houses were open. And wouldn't you know, one had some carrots. Another had an onion. Someone had beans. Somebody had a bit of leftover meat. Everyone had something to add to the pot. And when the soup smelled just wonderful, an old woman brought two loaves of bread just baked to be shared along with the soup.

Stories were told around the fire, and a wonderful meal satisfied each and everyone. And that's a village that never went hungry again, even though the man with his soup stones never came back.
Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.


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