The shadows were stretching long from the west when Jesus of Nazareth, the Teacher they had all come to see, finished his teaching. There was something captivating about this man– something that caused even the young children to still themselves, to attend to his voice. Something that brought the whole of the restless crowd to silence, that they all might hear his words.
Rachel knew that she would be pondering his words, so unlike the words of the Rabbis and the Pharisees and yet somehow so familiar, for a long time afterward. Her heart longed to rush to the front of the crowd, to sit at his feet and ask him to explain what the parables had meant, to ask him if he truly were the Son of God, the promised Messiah. But the Teacher was surrounded on all sides by the men who followed him, and they were clearly having a conversation that looked as though it would suffer no interruptions. Rachel watched as one of the men gesticulated toward the crowd, frustration growing in his features. He looked tired. Rachel wondered how many days they had been out traveling, when the last time had been that they had followed any kind of normal life routine.
“Rachel! I’m hungry!” The little voice snapped Rachel out of her reverie, and she became aware of three little faces gathered around her, pulling on her robe, their faces clearly telling her that they were all hungry. How long had it been since they had eaten? Looking to the sky, she saw the sun was well on its way to the horizon. It had been hours since the noon meal of bread and dried fish. As if to corroborate the stories told on the faces before her, Rachel’s stomach rumbled, long and low. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She realized that she had a problem at that moment. At home, there was very little food ready. She had expected to be back in time to cook the evening meal, but they were nearly an hour’s walk from the village, and even then there wasn’t much left in the house to prepare.
“What’s that?” little Sarah asked, pointing to the bag that lay in the grass at Rachel’s feet. “Whose lunch is it?”
Rachel stooped to grab it before the children could. Glancing within, she saw clearly it was one of the lunches she had packed hurriedly that morning– a few little rolls of bread, a few little dried fishes. Enough to fill a young boy’s belly until the evening meal. Certainly not enough for the three children clamoring before her with their eager, hopeful faces, or the two other children she saw racing toward her across the high, rocky field. Thinking back through the day, she couldn’t remember who hadn’t come for their lunch. A feeling of shame came over her– how could she have forgotten to make sure they all ate? Somehow it had slipped her mind.
The two running children skidded to a wild stop before Rachel, panting after their dash across the grass.
“Rachel!” gasped John. “That’s my lunch!” He reached out to take it from her, but she held it behind her back.
“Why didn’t you eat earlier, John? Now everyone’s hungry. I can’t just let you eat it in front of your brothers and sisters.”
“No, John. I know it’s not a big meal, but we’re going to have to share it around as best as we can and then eat more when we get home.” As Rachel spoke the words, she realized that the sounds of the crowd around her were becoming louder and harsher.
“Nothing to eat . . . ”
“How did it get so late . . . ”
“Half a day’s journey from home . . . ”
Little children cried as their empty bellies made themselves known. Nearby, a red-faced husband berated his wife for not thinking about this need early that morning when they had left the village and begun the climb. Miriam, who had gingerly lowered herself to a rock nearby in the grass, looked pale and tired.
Rachel’s own stomach let out another, louder growl as she surveyed the restless crowd with wide eyes. Had it only been a few moments ago that the Teacher had spoken of love and kindness and the kingdom of God? All these people had seemed so entranced by his words, but now they were like wild animals, ready to turn on the Teacher and his followers. She glanced again to the place where Jesus was standing with his men, and knew they were thinking the same thing as their nervous eyes passed over the throng.
“Rachel?” John’s voice cut into Rachel’s thoughts. She looked at him impatiently and crossed her arms in front of herself, the little lunch still clutched in her hand. John was Rachel’s most frustrating sibling. He was only a couple years younger than she was, and should have been out in the boats with Father, but he was too wild and immature. As the oldest boy, he should have been starting to take on extra responsibilities– if not in the boat, at least helping Rachel more and behaving more like an adult. But instead he was one of her greatest challenges, forever forgetting what he was supposed to be doing, losing things, fighting with the younger children, arguing with Rachel because she wasn’t Mother.
“What, John?” Rachel hated the sharp sound in her voice. Hadn’t she just been judging those around her for the same response to their hunger and worry?
“That man up there–” John pointed to one of the Teacher’s men, who had separated himself from those crowded around Jesus and was scanning the section of the crowd where Rachel’s family stood. “That man up there asked if anyone had any food to share, and I said he could have my lunch, since I never ate it.”
It took a moment for the absurdity of John’s words to reach Rachel’s mind. “John,” she said in as patient a voice as she could muster, “There isn’t even enough food in this bag for the six of us. There have to be at least 10,000 people here. What good is your little lunch going to do?”
She watched the boy take a deep breath, straighten up. He was nearly as tall as she was now, and his eyes held– for a moment– a glimmer of the man he would someday become. “It’s not for the crowd. It’s for Jesus. He wants my lunch, and I want to give it to him. Please, Rachel?”
Rachel looked up again, back toward the Teacher. She remembered the brief, eternal moment that morning when their eyes had met. He hadn’t eaten all day, as far as she had seen. How much strength did it require to heal and do miracles, to speak for hours to a huge mass of people?
She looked at her siblings. They were hungry, yes, but they were far from starving. It would be a long trek down the hill, a long process to make up a supper, but they would all survive. Rachel wanted to do this thing. She took a deep breath.
“I don’t know if it’ll even be enough to fill Jesus’ belly, John,” Rachel said. “He’s a grown man and hasn’t eaten all day. But I suppose it’s better than nothing, and anyway it’s all we have to share. If you want to give it to him, go ahead.” And she offered him the bag, with its five little pieces of bread, its two little dried fish.
It certainly wasn’t what she would have brought today, if she had known it was going to feed the Teacher. He deserved a feast.
“Thanks, Rachel!” John turned to run back to where the disciple stood, still searching the crowd.
“John– wait–” Rachel reached out to her brother’s shoulder, grabbed it before he could race away. He turned toward her with an expression of defiant worry. She knew he thought she had changed her mind. “I’m proud of you, my brother,” she said awkwardly. How long had it been since any kind of affection had passed between them?
Immediately his face relaxed, broke into a grin that reminded Rachel of the children they had been, the little games they had played back before Mother had been taken ill. They had been the best of friends at one time.
Holding his head high, John raced through the increasingly restless crowd, carrying his little lunch to Jesus.