Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Loaves and Fishes (A Story)

The following is a departure from my usual blog entries, both in style and length. It's a story I've been working on, based on the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and I thought, with Easter approaching, now might be a good time to post it.

Photo by Tim Nichols

Eli kicked off his covers, yawned and stretched, then peered out his window at the new morning. The sun had just barely cleared the hills on the far side of the lake, but it was already beaming a narrow, golden path across the dark water. Eli often dreamed he could walk across the water on that bright ribbon of light to the dark, mysterious hills beyond the sea. This was Eli’s favorite time of day. He sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the sky grow lighter as the sun rose higher. The ripples on the surface of the lake began to sparkle in the sunlight. Eli straightened the blankets on his bed and shoved his feet into his still-damp sandals.
            Eli’s mother had been up long before the sun and was putting the last of the day’s flat barley loaves on the hearth to bake. She smiled when she saw her son’s face appear in the doorway. Even though he was fast becoming a young man, she could often see glimpses of the little boy he used to be in his face.  She could also see a new restlessness in his eyes. She placed her hand against his cheek for a moment when he stooped to kiss her good morning, leaving behind a trace of barley flour on the smooth brown skin.
“Don’t be long,” she said.  “Breakfast will be ready soon, and I may need you to stay with Hannah for a while this morning.”
            Eli ducked out the door and jogged down to the water’s edge, as he had done every morning for as long as he could remember. He gazed across the water at the hills on the other side again and wondered for a moment what life was like outside his small village. Then he picked up a flat stone and skipped it out across the water before he began searching the water’s edge for any treasures that had washed up during the night. His search was interrupted by the hum of voices in the distance. He glanced up and saw a crowd of people gathering near the one of the fishermen’s boats.
“Mother,” he called, “I’ll be right back.”
            He hurried toward the growing crowd, fearing the worst – that one of the village fishermen had been lost. But when he got closer, he realized the voices didn’t sound sober and worried, as they had when his father’s boat had washed up on the shore in pieces. No, this time they sounded bubbly and excited, and there were many people he didn’t recognize, people from other villages. He melted into the edge of the crowd to listen. 
            “He’s in a boat, headed toward Bethsaida. If we hurry we can meet him there,” said a tall man Eli didn’t know. 
            “Who are they talking about?” Eli asked a boy his age who seemed to know the man who had spoken.
            “Jesus! And his disciples. My papa says he’s a miracle worker. He thinks maybe he can heal my bad leg." 
            For the first time, Eli noticed the boy was leaning on a wooden walking stick. He glanced down to see a crooked, withered leg. He quickly glanced away, not wanting to make him feel uncomfortable. When he looked back at the boy’s face, he saw a friendly grin. 
           "Don’t worry about it. I’m used to people taking a second glance. You should come along with us!” the boy said, as they noticed the crowd beginning to edge down the shoreline.
“I have to ask permission,” Eli said. “I’ll be right back – I hope!” 
“Hurry,” said the boy, “I can move pretty fast, even with my bad leg, and I know my father won’t want to waste any time getting there.”
Eli raced up the shore to his house. “Mother, Mother!” he yelled as he burst into the house.
            “Eli, what’s the matter?” his mother asked, looking up in alarm. “Where have you been?”
 “There’s a big crowd of people who are going to listen to Jesus. They say
he can do miracles. There’s a boy with a lame leg, and even his father thinks Jesus can heal it. Mother, please can I go with them? Please?”
            Eli’s mother looked down at her son; again she saw the restlessness and the pleading in his eyes. “I wish your father was here to go with you. I’d go myself, but Hannah woke up with a fever this morning. Oh, Eli, couldn’t you wait and go another time?” 
            “Mama, there might not be another time. Please, please let me go.”
            As soon as she heard it, she realized he hadn’t called her ‘Mama’ for a long time, maybe not ever since his father died. He was trying so hard to grow up, and she knew she must try equally hard to let him.
“All right, Eli,” she said slowly, “you can go, but stay with the people from the village.”
            “Thanks, Mama!” he said as he kissed her cheek for the second time that morning.  He turned toward the door. 
            “Wait,” she said; “you haven’t had any breakfast.
            “Mama, I don’t have time. I have to catch up.”
            “Let me pack you a lunch to take with you then. Here, there are only two fish left, but there’s a lot of bread.” She placed the fish and several of her smooth flat loaves of freshly baked bread into a bag for him.
With a grin and a wave, he was out the door. Eli’s feet flew along the dusty path as he raced to catch up with the crowd.  Though it was still early, the sun was already bright and hot. As the road wound up the hillside, Eli was almost dizzy with his independence and the beauty of the day; he felt as though he’d never seen a bluer sky. 
The crowd slowed to a stop at an open grassy place, and Eli heard a rich warm voice begin to speak. He slipped through the crowd almost unnoticed as he made his way closer and closer to Jesus. He guessed most of the people he wriggled past thought he was going to join his family. It seemed as though the crowd was made up of men and their families. On one hand, he wished his mother and Hannah were here with him, and of course, he really wished his father were here, but he’d been wishing that every day for the past year.  On the other hand, though, it was an adventure being here on his own in this big crowd.  He found a little spot not far from Jesus where he settled down and began to listen intently to Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God.
As the day wore on, Eli felt himself relaxing more than he had in a long, long time. The months following his father’s death hadn’t been easy, and it was a relief to just be here by himself being a kid again instead of trying to be the man of the household. A couple of times, it seemed to him that Jesus’ kind eyes looked right at him, and he found himself sitting up straighter and wishing the day would never end. Just being near Jesus made him feel less sad and more hopeful. 
When Jesus began healing people, Eli watched in wonder. Suddenly, he caught sight of the boy he’d met this morning in the crowd in front of Jesus. He caught his breath and stood to watch him make his way to the front. Jesus looked into the boy’s eyes and said something that made the boy nod and smile as if they were old friends. Then Jesus touched his crooked leg and said some more words as he looked up toward the heavens. There were tears streaming down the boy’s cheeks as Jesus took the homemade crutch from under the boy’s arm, and the boy stood up straight, flexed his legs, then grinned and turned to find his papa. But then he whipped back around and threw his arms around Jesus before running, yes—running through the crowd and into his father’s arms.  Eli swallowed hard and blinked back his own tears at what he’d just witnessed.  Strangely, as happy as he was for the boy, he was also feeling a little bit jealous, even though he’d had two good legs his whole life. He longed to feel Jesus’ gentle touch and then be able to run to his own father’s arms. 
When he looked back at Jesus, he saw several of his followers clustered around him. They were talking in low, tense voices, but he couldn’t make out their words. The men seemed distressed as they gestured towards the crowds of people. Jesus didn’t look worried though, and as his followers moved out into the crowds, Eli thought he might have seen a little smile flicker across Jesus’ face. 
Eli watched the men move from group to group. They seemed to be looking for something or someone. Soon, one of the men came over to the grassy patch where Eli and some other families were sitting.
“Do any of you have any food? Any bread?” the man asked. 
No one, it seemed, had even thought about food—until now, and suddenly everyone was hungry. Eli was surprised to see how low the sun had slipped in the sky. He’d been so wrapped up in watching Jesus, he hadn’t even thought about eating the lunch he’d brought. He grabbed his bag of bread and fish and held it up.
“I do,” he said quietly. 
As the man made his way toward him, Eli looked in the bag and saw that his mother had put in five loaves of her good barley bread along with the two fish.  The smell of the bread made Eli’s stomach growl, and he thought for a minute about keeping one of the little loaves for himself and giving the rest to the man.  But he felt the eyes of the crowd on him, so when the man reached him, he handed over his whole lunch. The man peered in the bag and shook his head, muttering, “What good is one lunch among so many?” But he thanked Eli and continued moving through the crowds, searching for more food. 
Eli settled back into his spot, waiting to see what would happen next.  When he glanced up at Jesus, he gulped—Jesus was looking at him—for sure this time. And he was smiling. The proud look in Jesus’ eyes reminded Eli of the look his father used to give him when he’d done something especially good or kind. Eli smiled back and gave a little wave. Jesus’ eyes crinkled at the corners and he looked as though he was about to laugh. Instead he gave a little wave back and mouthed, Thank you. Suddenly Eli knew this was a man he would never want to disappoint. He was so very glad he hadn’t kept one of the loaves for himself. In fact, he wished he had another lunch or something else to give. 
He watched as Jesus turned his attention to the disciples who were gathering around him. They were all empty-handed except the man holding Eli’s lunch. They seemed to be arguing among themselves or maybe with Jesus. 
            Meanwhile, the crowd of people, reminded of their empty stomachs, had grown restless. They were on their feet; Eli felt them pressing forward, almost like a wave in the sea. He scrambled to the top of the big rock he’d been leaning against, so he could still see Jesus. If Jesus ate one of his mother’s good loaves of barley bread, he wanted to watch, so he could tell his mother about it when he got home. 
            Sure enough, the man who had taken Eli’s lunch handed it over to Jesus.  Jesus said something, and the man turned and pointed at Eli. Eli smiled shyly from the top of the big rock. Jesus smiled back and gave Eli a look he never forgot. It was a look of promise—it was almost as if Jesus was saying, You are safe with me. I am going to take care of you. 
Jesus turned his attention back to the restless crowd and soon the disciples were asking everyone to sit down in groups of fifty people. Once everyone was seated, a hush fell over the hillside.
Jesus took Eli’s five smooth loaves of bread, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks. Eli’s brow furrowed as he watched, and his heart began to beat faster. What would the hungry crowd do if Jesus ate in front of them? Jesus broke the first loaf of bread into pieces and put them into a basket one of the disciples handed to him. He did the same with the second loaf and the third. As Eli watched, wide-eyed, basket after basket started filling up with bread. Somehow, his little loaves were multiplying. The disciples started moving among the groups of people passing out bread. The more pieces Jesus gave away, the more there were. Then he did the same with the two little salted fish. Before long, everyone was talking and laughing as they munched on the bread and fish from Eli’s lunch. The women around Eli complimented his mother’s fine baking. Eli murmured his thanks as he nibbled at his bread and fish. He couldn’t take his eyes off Jesus, who continued to pass out baskets of bread and fish to the disciples until everyone was fed. 
Eli watched Jesus serve bread and fish to each of the hungry disciples.  He went around the circle, putting a hand on one man’s shoulder, leaning in close to whisper something in another’s ear, tousling the hair of the youngest disciple. Eli wished he were older and could be in that close circle. He’d give anything to feel Jesus’ hand on his shoulder or to hear his voice whispering something just for him in his ear. What was it about him that made Eli feel this way? All of a sudden, Eli realized something: although Jesus had made sure everyone else had plenty to eat, including his own disciples, unless Eli had missed it, he had not taken even one bite himself. 
Soon the disciples were on their feet again moving around the crowd of people. After awhile, each of the men came back to Jesus with a basket full of leftover bread and fish. People near Eli were talking in low, hushed tones about Jesus. Who was this man, they wondered, who could take two fish and five loaves of bread and feed thousands of people and still have food leftover. When Eli turned back toward Jesus, he saw him calmly helping himself to some of the leftovers, seemingly unaware of the buzz in the crowd over what had just happened. Eli watched as Jesus put a little piece of fish between two small pieces of bread, closed his eyes and bowed his head for a moment, then popped the little sandwich into his mouth. Almost immediately, he reached for more bread. Then, as if he felt Eli’s eyes on him, he turned and beckoned to him.
Eli jumped to his feet and hurried over to Jesus, dodging in and out of the groups of people who were gathering up children, fastening sandals, and preparing to head back to their homes.
One of Jesus’ followers saw Eli coming and blocked his path, saying kindly but firmly, “It’s time to go, son. Jesus is tired.”
But almost instantly, Jesus was there, gently moving the man aside. “I’m never too tired to talk to children, especially this young man whose mother bakes such delicious bread. Please tell her how much we all enjoyed it,” he said to Eli. “It reminds me of the bread my own mother makes.” Then he put a hand on each of Eli’s shoulders pulled him close for a minute. Jesus’ rough tunic smelled of sun and sea and freshly-baked bread. Eli threw his arms around Jesus’s waist just as he’d seen his friend do earlier. Jesus bent his head and whispered quietly in Eli’s ear. Eli looked up at Jesus, his eyes brimming with tears. Then he nodded and smiled and gave Jesus one more quick hug before he turned and headed for home.


Eli grew from boyhood to manhood. Eventually he left his small village behind and explored the mysterious hills beyond the sea. Like most lives, Eli’s was filled with great joy as well as great sorrow. Throughout the good times and the hard times, Eli carried with him the memory of the afternoon on the hillside when he gave Jesus all that he had, and Jesus took what he offered and made a miracle. He held Jesus’ words close to his heart and shared them often with his children, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren and with anyone else who would listen: “Anything is possible to those who believe.

Story based on the Bible, particularly the following passages:
Matthew 14:13 – 21
Mark 6:30 – 44 and 9:23
Luke 9:10 – 17

John 6:1 – 15


  1. This is beautiful, Mindy. Thanks so much,

  2. Lovely, fun story. I'll have the 12 year old g-dau. Read it.

  3. Lovely, fun story. I'll have the 12 year old g-dau. Read it.