Empty Basket

A fictional short story, based on Mark chapter 6

We were trying to get away. So much had happened over the last few weeks that I didn’t understand; so much had happened that I wanted to share with him. I had seen so much of God’s power and experienced so much provision – I was torn between falling on my knees in worship, collapsing from exhaustion, and eagerly heading out to do it all again. Mostly I just wanted to talk to him, and to listen.

Listening to him was like nothing I had ever experienced before, like I had discovered a new sense, like I had been blind all my life and he had opened my eyes to this new reality. He called it the kingdom. I had heard him speak in the synagogue and been completely awe-struck. So when he told me one day, “Follow me,” I did. You can’t disobey commands from a man like that – he has the words of life.

So I just wanted to listen, to hear what he had to say about the mission we’d just returned from. But I couldn’t. People were coming in and out of the house, greeting him, asking him questions, touching his hands, his feet, his clothes, begging for healing or forgiveness or teaching or just a glimpse from those eyes that could see your soul. Exhausted, we sat around him, waiting for the commotion to die down, but it never did. After some time, he saw our exhaustion and said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

How my heart leapt at those words! We headed out to the boat, and though sailing to the far shore is no easy task, we cast out, invigorated by the thought of peace, quiet, and mentorship. However, we weren’t far from the shore when we saw the dreaded scene: people, thousands and thousands of them, from the town we had just left, had seen where we were going and had run all the way around the sea, reaching that quiet place before we could even have one minute alone.

Well, what do you think the teacher did? He saw their need. He welcomed them. He taught them. I cannot blame the crowd’s eagerness, for I feel the same way – desperate to hear what new truth is going to come from his mouth. But all the same, it was becoming too much to bear. After a few hours, a few of us went up to him, in an attempt to salvage what was left of our quiet retreat. “This is a remote place, and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” And just then, it all came crashing down around me. I don’t have what it takes to be his disciple. I can’t have his same bottomless compassion; I can’t bear the world’s unrelenting need. I can’t do what he is asking – it is impossible! “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” What is it exactly that you expect of me, and why do I never seem able to do it?

The teacher, always compassionate, is unfazed by our doubt. “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Hearts sinking, we asked around in the crowd to see if anyone had brought something. Finally, we found a boy with 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish, and brought them to the teacher. “How far will they go among so many?”

He asked us to organize the people into groups and get them to sit down, and we did so – groups of 50 or 100 people. We looked foolish, sitting down to eat with nothing but crumbs, but all eyes were on the teacher, waiting to see what he would do next. He looked up to heaven and prayed over that meager food, and then I saw the loaf break in his hands. But when he put it in my basket to pass out to the people, it was somehow whole. He smiled as he kept on breaking off of the loaf, producing whole pieces until the basket was completely full. My expression of exasperation melted into incredulous laughter, and I went out to feed the people.

Later, after the most plentiful meal we had ever had, we began to pick up the leftovers, each of us coming back with a full basket, hundreds of times more than we had to begin with. And then, I learned: Often I feel that I have nothing to give, that I have failed him and cannot be what he requires. But he takes what we have, little as it may be, and makes it into an abundance, enough to fully satisfy us and everyone around. I cannot take any credit for those full bellies and full hearts. I’m just passing out bread. But Jesus, from now on, I want to unreservedly give you all that I have, for you to multiply and satisfy.

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