I’m getting ready to teach a class on the fishes and loaves story from the Gospel of John. Some have said of this story that what is most striking about it is its simplicity. Rachel Mann is an Anglican priest based in South Manchester, UK. She writes, “However we play out this story, we are not the realm of spectacular and the pyrotechnic”
For Mann, the story is not about a magic trick, but about the miracle of sharing. It is impossible to feed the people as long as the question is, “how can we afford to do this?” Jesus takes provisions from a child and dispenses them to the masses. Some commentaries have said that seeing the generosity of a child triggered adults to share their secret stash of food, thus ending up with more than enough for everyone.
Mann says, “(People) quite plausibly, may argue that food – that bread – will always be a limited commodity that leaves some fed and others with nothing. The Christian faith is doomed – from that perspective – to be ridiculous and absurd. That it may appear so is a condemnation of political expediency and an invitation to rediscover the shape of real hope.”
In other words, the “miracle” is that Jesus stepped out of the economic model of the time and simply met human need. The act seems politically and economically niave, but it forces us to answer a question. Can someone really follow this teacher, and call for conservative economic policies?
In the United States, some Christians are saying that social programs are impoverishing us all. But a closer look will show that even those meager programs are under the cold metalic hand of capital. Mann points out that the US billion-dollar food aid programme is dominated by three US-based multinationals. She quotes Eric Munoz, agriculture specialist for Oxfam America, as saying, “[it is clear]…that it is massive multinational firms – not rural America and not farmers – that are the direct beneficiaries of the rigged rules governing the US food aid programme.” In other words, even our national acts of charity are making the rich richer.
St. John might add, “let those with ears, hear.”