There Were Planners in the Crowd

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By Dr. Joy A. Howard

I am a planner. I know the where and the when and the how. I know who needs to show up and who needs a ride. I pack first aid kits and I am the one who knows where the closest hospitals are located. I think planning is good.

This week, my Tuesday Bible Study read Luke’s account of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 men plus even more women and children by multiplying five loaves and two fishes. (Luke 9:12-17) I had never noticed the planners in the crowd before and once I saw them, I couldn’t let go.

In Luke’s account, a huge crowd followed Him and He was preaching and healing people. Around dinner time, the disciples approached Jesus and asked Him to send the people away so they could find food for themselves. Jesus told them, No, we will feed them. So, following Jesus’ instructions, the disciples worked their way through the crowd and asked for food. Unsurprisingly, there were some, not many, but indeed some who had packed food. Jesus took their food and multiplied it by the thousands so everyone had enough to eat and there were even leftovers.

When I read the story about feeding so many people, I am not surprised by the miracle that turns such little food into enough. The Jesus I follow and love comes into our lives in audacious, ridiculous, and compassionate ways. What surprises me is that the planners changed their plans and gave their food away. I am caught off guard by the trust in this Rabbi Jesus these planners possessed, because I know how hard it is to pause the plan that I’ve planned so well.

It is a challenge for me sometimes to imagine that someone else—even God, the Planner of Everything—could have a backup plan I did not think of. These women (I am layering my own gender identification onto this story as I relate to these planners) reached into their bags and handed the disciples their bread or their fish. It is likely that in their lap, their toddler slept, and they knew the child would wake up hungry after napping in the hot afternoon sun. They gave away their food, most likely assuming that only the most vulnerable would be fed and probably that meant their children would skip a meal.

These women did not know what we know when we read the story: No one would leave Jesus hungry. They did not know Jesus would turn their loaves and fishes into enough food for everyone. They did not know Jesus would declare himself the very Bread of Life and promised his followers that no one who sought Him out, would go hungry and no one who followed Him, would go thirsty.

While the planners in the crowd might not have known exactly what was going to happen to the loaves and fishes they handed the disciples, they did know Jesus and they knew each other.

They knew the love Jesus showed. They intimately knew healing. They knew the sound of Jesus’ voice as He bellowed loud enough for everyone to hear His message that God is Love and is always on the side of the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. They knew the other people who walked with them in this Jesus-following community.

These women knew the disciples. They knew how much they watched out for people and they kept the crowds from crushing the frail and elderly. They knew how the disciples watched out for Jesus and tried to get Him to take breaks every now and then. They also knew the other Jesus followers who, like them, had left chores and businesses and social obligations to learn from this Rabbi who raised people from the dead. They walked with other mamas and papas who shared stories. The uncles and aunties helped carry tired children on the way to meet Jesus.

Jesus performed a miracle that emphasized a gender inclusive community where both men’s work and women’s work is honored. Bread-making was women’s work. Women picked the grain, set the grain to dry, and ground the grain with a stone mortar and pestle. It was women who got up before the sun to set dough to rise. They nurtured the fire into a slow, steady heat, and women stored the bread carefully away from critters. Fishing was men’s work. They knitted and maintained fishing nets, watched the weather, scoped out where the schools of fish were swimming. It was men who cast out nets, hauled in nets, salted, and dried the fish. Jesus multiplied a meal that men and women contributed in making.

I am not saying here that I think this story of Jesus feeding the huge crowd is about sacrifice even if you and your family go hungry. I know so many of us have experienced painful emotional manipulation in churches during fundraising campaigns where we were told we must sacrifice and “give until it hurts.” There is nothing in Luke’s account that suggests to me that the disciples were guilting people into sharing their food. I do not think Jesus was mocking the planners and saying, “Just let go and let God!”

I’m also not meaning to say that following Jesus requires that you sacrifice yourself and your children on the altar of ministry. As a pastors’ kid, I saw way too many fellow missionary and pastors’ kids who were deeply wounded because they were the collateral damage of their parents’ ministries. It might have felt like a sacrifice for some of the women to hand the disciples their fish and bread, but the ending of the narrative is one of abundance in the presence of Jesus.

As a planner, I felt tremendous comfort this week when I noticed the planners who brought loaves of bread and a few fish. Jesus was even more of a planner than they were. Jesus could have easily created enough money out of thin air so each person could buy food. Jesus could have recreated the wilderness miracle of manna and quail for everyone. He does not do these things. His plan—God’s plan—is rooted in community where we are known.

Jesus nudges us to look for what resources our neighbor has and what resources we have, what needs our neighbor has and what needs we have, and then to sit down and eat together, whether that was our plan in the first place or not.

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About Joy:

Joy A. J. Howard is a Writing Coach in West Philly who works with writers all over the world. Researchers, professors, graduate students, activists, and writers of all sorts hire Joy when they are overwhelmed and want to be more productive and less stressed. She is especially committed to coming along side marginalized and underrepresented writers as they find their voice in academia and publishing. ( www.joyajhoward.com) Joy is a lay leader in a racially inclusive, LGBTQ affirming, Jesus-centered neighborhood church called Mosaic. Joy is also a member of a Bible Study that meets on Tuesday afternoons via the Internet. Tess, Sarah, Lisa, Sandy, and Joy met in a course offered by Dangerous Women almost 2 years ago and they are slowly making their way through Luke, seeing Jesus, women, and themselves in radically new ways. They helped Joy write this article when the writing schedule she planned did not work because a dear friend was sick and needed her.

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