The Five Thousand

Just yesterday the Biblical story of Jesus feeding the five thousand was twice brought to my mind. First, in the Lenten Devotional I am reading – Bitter & Sweet by Tsh Oxenreider – the author asked the reader to reflect on the painting The Five Thousand by Eularia Clark.



Eularia Clarke sets the feeding of the five thousand in modern dress and follows Matthew’s account in which women and children are present. The multitude has sat down in the grass, as Jesus requested, and is eating, not the fish and bread referred to in the Bible but, as in so much of Clarke’s work, a twentieth Century equivalent, fish and chips. The scene is more reminiscent of a church picnic than the biblical miracle. Tea is brewing in the lower right corner, bicycles and footballs are discarded, children and babies are remarkably well behaved, some people doze, others pay attention to the priest – or Jesus (whose head and shoulders are uncomfortably cut off by the edge of the painting). The artist said: ‘I daren’t paint Christ, I put in a pulpit, the priest is reading the notices before the sermon.’

I haven’t been able to stop pondering this gorgeous painting since seeing it for the first time yesterday morning. The rich patterns of the women’s head-coverings, the varied ages of the multitude, the casual nature of an outdoor picnic. Just a lovely image to ponder.

Later, yesterday afternoon, after our church’s well attended 5pm service our hospitality minister was certain we would run out of food for our post-service meal, only we didn’t! I later bumped into her in the kitchen, “that was a miracle, I did not cook enough food for all those people!”

I’m dubious that it was an actual miracle, and perhaps more of a rationing situation with good PR, but regardless, it was a reminder of this wonderful story we find in the Bible.

To be quite honest I’ve never loved the story of the Feeding of the Multitude. I find it too hard to believe; but then again, so is the gospel sometimes.

And how much more of a miracle is boundless, endless heavenly grace than some earthly fish and bread? Forgiveness for everyone and generous love for all is a miraculous gift! The miracle of the Gospel can often feel like a fish-tale, too good to be true. And yet, something inside me continues to believe. The gift of faith keeps me ever clinging to the mercy of God. A feast for many more than five thousand, the promised Feast of the Lamb is for everyone!



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