A couple of weeks ago my wife and I decided to give Peach Dish, one of those online “dinner in a box” companies, a try. I selected two dishes from their slick website, paid with my Amazon account and within a few days a large box appeared on my doorstep with everything I needed to cook two meals. The price? Fifty bucks. That’s kind of steep but when I factored my family’s busy schedule and how much we spend eating out I figured we might actually save money.
The food was actually quite good. Peach Dish is based in Georgia and offers their own take on Southern cuisine using “locally sourced” ingredients. Over the weekend we made cottage pie with pork, carrots and English Peas and then chicken breasts with garlicky kale and grits. It took about an hour to prepare each meal and the recipes were easy to follow. My wife and I were so pleased we ordered another round of meals for the next week.
On Monday morning, well fed and happy, I was back in my office where I work as the social services coordinator for a small town. The biggest part of my job is running the town’s food bank. Despite the relative affluence of where I live quite a few of our citizens are “food insecure” – the PC way of saying people are going hungry. I had never run a food bank before and when I started supplies were on the low side and I noticed a heavy dependence on canned goods. So as the months went by the volunteers and I started bringing in more fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. By coordinating with faith groups, civic organizations and ordinary citizens we’ve managed to keep above water – but I worry.
The food bank is entirely dependent on donations. That means my clients are at the mercy of other people’s largesse. And after twenty-five years in the mental health and restaurant businesses my confidence level in noblesse oblige is fairly low. Years waiting on entitled yuppies and dealing with severely mentally ill people within dysfunctional systems has made me a cynical man. Then a few months after starting this job the Flint water crisis hit. While watching a news reporter interview a Flint clergyman handing out thousands of gallons of donated water and filters he asked the minster a question that made my ears perk up. What happens when people stop giving you this stuff?
“I am a man of faith” the minister replied. “I have to believe it’ll come from somewhere.”
That’s pie in the sky magical thinking at first glace. But as I sat in my office I thought about the parable of the loaves and fishes. You know the story – Jesus was preaching and his disciples were worried that it was late in the day and the thousands of people who had gathered to listen to him were hungry. They asked Jesus to send them away so they could buy food in the local villages.
“You give them something to eat,” Jesus said. The disciples freaked out.
“That would take more than half a year’s wages!” they cried. “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” Not a lot, admittedly.
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
People usually look at this story and think Jesus did some kind of divine quantum presto-chango job and turned a little bit of food into a lot. Now if that’s what you believe I won’t disabuse you of that notion but this all happened thousands of years ago. There weren’t any Taco Bells and 7-11s lying around. You couldn’t call out for pizza. Back then if you hit the road you took food with you. You packed a picnic. If you’ve ever been to an outdoor event you know there are people who’ve made gustatory preparations and those who haven’t. I’m fairly sure the same thing happened with Jesus’s audience.
I’ve always liked to think the people in that crowd really listened to Jesus’ words. Maybe all this “Love your neighbor as yourself” stuff really sank in. And when the disciples started passing out their meager stores perhaps the people in the crowd who had food were moved to share it with those who didn’t. It’s possible. And wouldn’t that be a greater miracle than a divine magic show?
People tend to cling to what it theirs. “What’s mine is mine!” Throughout history the haves have always worried about have-nots taking their shit. Let’s face it; human nature hasn’t changed much in two thousand years. So for that crowd gathered at Jesus’ feet to share their food when it seemed like there wasn’t enough to go around is a very big deal. It was love put into action, the love at the core of Jesus’ preaching – be not afraid. Don’t be afraid to love and reach out to your fellow man; even when doing so makes people think you’re a fool.
Jesus, like that minister in Flint, was a man of faith. Not just faith in God, mind you, but faith in the goodness of His creation. So when his disciples started distributing their bits of bread and fish Jesus was counting on the people gathered to do the right thing. Despite all our cruelty, stupidity and folly Jesus had faith in the miraculousness of man. He believed in humankind’s greatness. On that day his faith was well placed. For me that’s the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Reflecting on all this made me think of my experience with Peach Dish. Jesus didn’t have the Internet in his day. Can you imagine the possibilities if Peach Dish and companies like them delivered a percentage of their food via UPS to hungry families? How about supermarkets using their online delivery services to bring nourishment to needy people? Maybe Uber could give homebound people free rides to the supermarket so they could buy groceries. Finally we’d be using all this digital interconnectedness for something besides Instagraming selfies of us enjoying meals in trendy restaurants or Tweeting about Kim Kardashian’s posterior.
As I was thinking about developing a killer app to do all this stuff a woman walked into my office and asked what the food bank needed. I gave her the handout I give to churches and told her that anything from the list would be greatly appreciated. Two hours later she comes back with two of everything. Then a church group dropped off four cart loads of groceries, an old man gave me a check for twenty bucks and a real estate company called to tell me they’d be dropping off a truckload of stuff next week. Talk about loaves and fishes.
Before I left for the day I looked at the pantry shelves and marveled at the time, energy and generosity that made all the food I was seeing possible. It was then I realized that I have had it all wrong. I’m not dependent on noblesse oblige. Despite my cynicism and brokeness I am called to be a man of faith – counting on the miraculousness of my fellow man. I shouldn’t have been afraid.
I have to believe it will come from somewhere.