One’s pilgrimage to The Holy Land often surpasses one’s highest expectations. That has certainly been true for me in both 1989 and 2018. My soul is greatly nourished in a place called Tabgha, nestled on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where stands The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. A fourth century Spanish pilgrim named Egeria had this to say:
Not far away from there (Capernaum) are some stone steps where the Lord stood. And in the same place by the sea is a grassy field with plenty of hay and many palm trees. Among them are seven springs, each flowing strongly. And this is the field where the Lord fed the people with the five loaves and two fishes. In fact, the stone on which the Lord placed the bread has now been made into an altar… (Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome, The Holy Land).
One can certainly dispute Egeria’s Galilean geography, but hardly the power of the story. This mosaic dates from a time of expansion of the Church of the Multiplication in about 480 C.E. The fish are likely those now known as “St. Peter’s fish,” a variety of tilapia – and a favorite of pilgrims such as myself and still exist in the Sea of Galilee. For me, the loaves in the basket suggest one of the twelve baskets of pieces that were left over.
But what was the source of the loaves and fish? One can begin with God and the gifts of creation, of course. I also locate them in the hands of a caring mama. In the gospel according to St. John, Jesus invokes the disciples to face a hunger crisis. Philip says, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” It is Andrew who produces a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish, undoubtedly prepared and sent with him by his mama. It is worth noting that the bread was barley, the bread of the poor. Contrast that with the scriptures’ high praise for the “choicest wheat” (Deuteronomy 32:14), “finest of the wheat” (Psalm 81:16; 147:1), with wheat perhaps also preferred for one’s “grain offering” (1 Chronicles 21:23). I offer that as a way to suggest that the solution to hunger came from those who lived in poverty. In the hands of the Lord, the “poor” bread and fish became enough to “satisfy” everyone, with twelve baskets left over.
Somewhere on the shores of Galilee, in a green place, Jesus invited those around him to entrust what they had to him, that all might have enough – and more. From the ancient mosaic to the water’s edge, there is space to ponder what the Lord has done and what the Lord will do when we entrust to him our loaves, our fish. Perhaps we who are privileged will hear the gospel call to partner with those in poverty, that all might have enough!
Editor’s Note: Article Image is World President of WesleyMen, Steve Hickle, remembering his Baptism at the Jordan River.