Loaves and fishes started with good parenting. A mom made a lunch. Taught her son to share. Sent him to hear Jesus. Did she sigh as she required him to share with his sister for the hundredth time that morning?
Mothering little boys takes a lot of energy, diligence, and patience, and though I’m raising only one boy, in the 21st century, I imagine that this has always been the case. One of the biggest challenges is reigning in the energy of a boy, teaching him to be mindful of those around him. Many times a day in our house, I ask my son, “Is your little sister enjoying your chasing her, tackling her, growling at her, etc.?” Sometimes she loves the energetic attention from her older brother, but she has a definite tipping point that I’m trying to train him to recognize. And it’s hard. And exhausting. And sometimes, I worry that he’ll never get it.
Feeding little boys can also be challenging. My son is a picky eater, but my daughter is hard to fill, so I’ve experienced both sides of the edible coin. Some days, just coming up with nutritious menu items (that will actually be eaten) three times a day can make me feel like I’m on a peanut butter and jelly hamster wheel.
But we’re mothers. So we keep going when it’s tough. We tell our children to share for the seventeenth time in an hour. We feed them because it’s time for a meal, not because we have a sudden rush of culinary genius. And it’s always been this way.
About 2000 years ago, there was a mother who probably felt a lot like I do some days: Is it making a difference? Are any of the lessons sinking into that sweet, stubborn, little head? This mother taught her son to consider others and to share. She packed him a healthy lunch. And she gave him the opportunity to take the lessons and the food out into the world to spend time learning from the greatest Teacher who ever lived.
Before Jesus fed the 5,000, “he already had in mind what he was going to do.” And one of the things he was going to do was to allow a little boy’s training and care to be used in one of the most impressive miracles ever performed. It’s dinnertime, and this growing boy is most definitely hungry. But the lessons his mother has been teaching him have been sinking in, and he has been listening to Jesus. He knows that a little fish and a few loaves of bread can’t feed the huge crowd, but he offers what he has.
Now I know this miracle isn’t about this boy’s mother, or even the boy himself. I know that it’s not a moral tale about sharing what we have. It’s about Jesus being God, revealing himself as the Bread of Life. It’s about never hungering or thirsting again in Christ. But in the moments when I feel like parenting is the equivalent of beating my head against a disobedient, crabby wall, I remember that the lessons I’m teaching and the nurturing I’m giving will yield fruit someday. And hopefully, all the hard work is pointing my son to the Teacher who holds all wisdom and joy his miraculous hands.