No one counts the kids. “Five Thousand Men!” the headlines say, but no one would have got fed at all if it weren’t for me, a kid. At first, I was utterly swallowed up in the crowd that day—too short to see or be seen. So many people had flocked out to see Jesus. Some of them had traveled far, hoping to get healed or see a healing, but no one had thought to bring a lunch, ‘cept for me. Well, it wasn’t really me who thought of it. Mama always sends me out with food, so when the crowd started complaining about hunger pains, I thought I had better offer to help.
It’s like when we are at synagogue, and Mama puts a few coins in the coffer. I ask her, “How come you put that in there? It won’t make a difference, will it?” Because right behind her the rich guys put in loads of money, and I start to feel embarrassed that we even bother. But Mama always whispers, “Sweetie, God smiles when you give what you have,” and I don’t feel quite so silly about it anymore. I feel a little bit proud, actually.
I felt a little bit proud too when I gave my five loaves and two fish. It was just what Mama would do, and I kinda wish she could have seen me do it. I found this guy named Andrew—I’ve seen him with Jesus a lot, so I knew he would be good to talk to. I stood on my tiptoes and tapped his shoulder, “Scuse me, sir.” Then I handed him my lunch basket. At first, I thought he wasn’t going to take it, but then he thought better of it and asked me to wait there. He turned and said something to Jesus, and before I knew it, Jesus was right in front of me, close enough to touch. I hope it wasn’t selfish of me, but I kinda started wishing I was lame, just so I could see what it felt like to get healed. But then, how would I have gotten all the way up the mountainside and this close to Jesus if I couldn’t walk in the first place? Never mind. It didn’t matter. I was here, and Jesus did want to use my bread and fish, so I plopped down on a rock nearby to watch him work. And I got a miracle after all.
My lunch grew and grew and grew until the whole crowd had eaten, only I was so amazed I lost my appetite! I tried to think how to explain this to Mama when I got home. I was so busy thinking about the story I had to tell that I almost didn’t notice, but I looked up just in time. The crowd was eating heartily, but Jesus was walking quietly away. I decided to follow him, and it turns out he was just looking for a quiet place to be alone. I think he was praying, so I figured I should let him be, and I wandered back to the feasting crowd.
Later, the crowd noticed he was gone and started hunting him down. By that point, Jesus was clear on the other side of the lake! Who knew how that happened?! The crowd caught up and started pushing Jesus for more signs. “What can you do?” they challenged him. “Our ancestors got manna. Moses brought them bread from heaven. What do we get?”
I didn’t really understand their demands; hadn’t they just been fed with miracle bread? I guess they wanted more. One meal wasn’t enough. Or maybe they thought Jesus was Moses, and they wanted him to say so.
Jesus told them that it wasn’t Moses who gives bread from heaven, but his Father. And by Father, I assume he didn’t mean Joseph, because Joseph is not a baker. I think maybe Jesus was talking about God, but I’m just a kid, what do I know? Anyway, then Jesus said that the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Don’t ask me what that means, because I don’t even have a single good guess.
The crowd started begging, “Always give us this bread!” They were all excited about something, and I have to admit the thrill was contagious, and so I climbed on a boulder so I could get a clearer view of Jesus. I thought maybe Jesus was about to do more miracles, and so I started praying that someone would bring him a piece of cake to multiply. Silly grown-ups. Why ask for bread when you could ask for cake?
Then Jesus said something that shocked everyone: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
All the adults started looking at each other with raised eyebrows, like they didn’t understand. But this one made sense to me. At least, I knew that this wasn’t really about bread or cake, and the way I pictured Jesus’ words in my head was that Jesus was holding me in his arms, kind of like the way Mama would hold me when I was little, and as long as I was being held, I wouldn’t feel any hunger. And not just hunger, but I wouldn’t be afraid or sick; I wouldn’t even be able to die. I was safe, and it felt warm like a blanket. That’s what I saw in my mind when Jesus was talking, but the grown-ups started murmuring and complaining.
“How can you say you came from heaven? We know your mother and your father!” The adults were angry now, and I couldn’t understand why.
They were right that everyone knew Mary and Joseph were Jesus’ parents—even I knew that—but Mama says all babies come from heaven, so I can’t figure out why the same couldn’t be true of Jesus. In fact, I bet Jesus was in heaven extra long before God sent him down here as a baby, and that’s what makes him so special. He has more heaven inside him than the rest of us.
“Stop grumbling,” Jesus told the people, and I smiled cuz he sounded just like Mama when he said that, only it was the grown-ups who were getting in trouble ‘stead of me.
When I grow up, I want be like him. All those guys ask him tough questions, and he just smiles like he knows a secret. He’s real strong cuz he doesn’t let anyone bully him. Yes, people say mean things, hurt him and stuff, but it doesn’t change who he is or get him discouraged.
Jesus is more than a bag of fancy tricks—any plain-eyed person can see that. If I were Jesus, I’d be proud that I could do all that magic. I’d want to show it off to my friends, make a little money, maybe even get real famous. But Jesus is so special he doesn’t even need all that—he does have some friends, but they seem more confused than impressed half the time. He walks all over the country without any money and apparently, without any food—that’s what I figure on account of them needing my lunch and all. He is kinda famous, but sometimes the crowds talk about wanting to kill him, so it’s not the best kind of popular, that’s for sure. His life seems dangerous, but he doesn’t even try to make the people like him so they won’t kill him. He feeds them, and then wanders off and disappears. They ask him questions, and he answers in ways they don’t want to hear. He says things they don’t understand. He claims to be the bread of life, and boy, does that get ‘em fired up and ready for war.
But still, when I grow up, I hope I can be just like him. He’s the kind of man that knows what he’s doing, even if no one else can figure him out. It’s like when we kids are sick, and papa makes fun of the weird concoctions mama invents to pour down our throats, and we kids holler and fight her about having to drink it, but it always, always works like she’s got some special information about how to heal people that the rest of us don’t know about. That’s like Jesus. People poke fun and yell at him and even fight him, but he just stays calm like he knows something special. People drink him in—sometimes like water, cool and refreshing, sometimes like medicine that burns a little as it goes down but is good for you all the same. I think he’s even better at healing than Mama. And he took her homemade bread and multiplied it times a couple thousand!
Come to think of it, I wish Mama was here with me so she could meet Jesus herself. The two of them would make a great team! She could make the bread and he could pass it out; she could make the medicine, and maybe he could make it taste better! (I heard he made some plain water taste real nice at a wedding one time.)
While we are on the topic of Jesus and Mama, there’s another reason I wish she could meet him. Mama is always, always worrying about whether she’s done enough for her family. She washes our clothes and makes us meals and heals our hurts and keeps our family together like glue. Until I met Jesus, Mama was the most magic person I knew. But she’s always ‘pologizing, like she forgot to do something important, or like she messed up somehow. I want to make her understand that the best thing she gives to our family is herself—her warm and beautiful self. Even if she forgot to wash my clothes and scrub my ears—actually, especially if she forgot to scrub my ears—I’d love her just the same because she is wonderful, even without all the stuff she does. And I think if she met Jesus, he would help her see that. You know, because Jesus does all these miracles—feeds people, heals people, holds people, loves people—a lot like Mama, as I’ve said before—but he knows that who he is even more important than what he does. When the crowds were pushing him to do more signs and miracles and bring them bread from heaven, Jesus just said, “I am the bread of life,” and that was that. He didn’t have to prove anything to them. He heals and feeds a lot of people, but he doesn’t seem to feel bad that there are a lot more people he didn’t get to yet.
That’s the way Jesus and Mama are different. Mama’s always worrying, like she isn’t good enough. Course she is, she just can’t believe it. But Jesus could make her believe it; he could help her, the way she’s helped all of us.
I sure hope the crowds don’t really kill him, the way they sometimes say they want to. I want him to live forever and never leave us. He probably will live forever, since he can raise people from dead and all. If I grow up to be a betting man (mama says kids aren’t allowed to bet), but if I could, I would bet that Jesus wins when and if the people try to get him dead.
Oh my, I’m late for dinner! If you see Mama before me, be sure you tell her I haven’t been causing any trouble. No sir. I’ve been right respectable—feeding the hungry, listening to Jesus, minding my own business and not getting in anybody’s way. Be sure you tell her. Good-bye now.
And the people of God watched the little boy disappear but his story stuck in their hearts, and they bowed their heads, and they prayed. Will you pray with me?
Jesus Christ, Bread of Heaven, Bread of Life, feed us with your goodness. Like you, may we know who we are and whose we are. May we not be defined by what we do or by what we produce but by who we are in you. We are in you and you are in us. We are Children of Heaven, Children of Light, and we look to you for life. Amen.