Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews. When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do. Philip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.” One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted. When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves. The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, “This is the Prophet for sure, God’s Prophet right here in Galilee!” Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself. (John 6:1-15 MSG)
Earlier in the day
It was later than usual when Yosef was awakened by his mother Joanna. The commotion of his father and brothers leaving early didn’t wake him. The terrain was rocky and they farmed in a sort of terrace style so their days were long and started before the sun rose above the hills. Yosef would usually be going off with them but today his mother had a special mission for him. So he was able to sleep in and wait until she was ready. For Yosef, it was like a Sabbath without all the praying.
But honestly Sabbath prayer was a time for day dreaming for ten year old Yosef, he remembered it now as he was waking slowly with his favorite dream on his mind. While others were reciting prayer Yosef would have a head full of his first love, fishing. He knew when he was old enough he would get a job on one of the boats and become a fisherman. Fishing seemed so much more exciting for Yosef and easily beat a day working in the hills with his older brothers. As the youngest in the family he always got the dirty job, dragging refuse and burning it off. By the end of each day he was dirty, smoky and wishing he was doing anything else, even working as a lowly shepherd. Yosef was convinced any job would be better than working this farm on the side of the hill. The first chance Yosef got he would leave the farm and the harassment of his older brothers.
His dream to be a fishermen like the men in the village started when he was young and saw his first fishing boat coming in loaded down with fish. The excitement of the men on the boat was contagious and that excitement stays with Yosef. Sometimes he will run down to the piers early in the morning to see the boats go out to the sea for the day. Fishermen worked together and depended on one another. Yosef could see they all had assigned jobs. When the boats came in full the men had such pride. Yosef certainly wanted the kind of feeling he saw in fishermen. His favorite life would come on the water, not mucking around in the rocks and sand all day trying to coax a harvest from the stony ground.
The Passover was nearing, a time the family would travel to the temple. Joanna’s sister, Mara and her family lived nearby in Bethsaida, off the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Joanna had hoped Mara and her family would join them on their Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It would give them time to be with one another and share stories. It was almost a three day journey to the Holy City and so there was plenty of time to be together. That is why today Joanna was sending Yosef off to see his Aunt Mara and share plans for their journey.
But first she was making some bread for him to bring along. It was almost a four hour journey from their home near Gergesa on the eastern shore of the sea, and Joanna new Yosef was easily distracted. A ten year old boy could not walk along the sea and through the plain of el-Batihah without investigating everything that looked interesting. So she was making enough bread for him to eat on the way there and back. Also she wanted to have some as a gift for Mara. Mara had always said she enjoyed Joanna’s barley loaves more than any other in all of Galilee.
So Joanna too woke early with the farming men readying the dough, letting it rise and cooking it in their small oven. She made her bread thin so it was easy to break off pieces, Yosef could eat as he walked. For so many loaves it would take some time and so she let Yosef sleep late. She had heard him sneak out in the night. She knew he loved to go down to the sea and watch the fishing boats leave, the excitement of the water for her son Yosef was not lost on her. She didn’t mind him slipping off, she just wondered what would happen when one day he would want to go to the sea for good. Her husband Simeon would be disappointed that one of his boys didn’t want to continuing farming. But she knew Yosef was special and God had a plan for him. She had faith it all would be as the master wishes.
The bread was still warm, wrapped in a cloth and put in a carry bag. Joanna gave Yosef the bag, and told him to cover his head; although it was spring this noonday sun would be hot and she wanted him protected. “Ok, Yosef, don’t forget to tell Mara about the journey to the Holy City, and make sure she gets some bread, there are six loaves, don’t eat them all and don’t leave them somewhere along the way.”
“I will make sure mom, I know how Aunt Mara loves your bread,” said Yosef
“Hurry back, I will worry about you until you return and if you have to stay in Bethsaida overnight it will be twice as worrisome.”
“Yes, mom.” Yosef shouted back as he went running toward the path to the sea. His excitement to spend the day near the water was taking over his mood. He had been happy to have a day without farming but now as he ran up on the water he almost wanted to jump in and swim. He began traveling north, staying on the shore as much as he could. It wasn’t the fastest route but it sure was the most interesting one for Yosef.
Every time a fish splashed or a bird swooped down he would stop and watch. Seeing a Great White Pelican flying above Yosef knew it would be dropping down for a fish lunch. He decided to break off some bread and sit and watch as the bird looked for an unsuspecting fish. He had only been walking about an hour and wasn’t very far slowly climbing along the shore. But he loved being here and wasn’t thinking about what was ahead only enjoying everything in front of him.
For a ten year old, Yosef had a lot of responsibility on the farm. His dad and brothers depended on him. So this carefree day was a welcome change.
At that moment the pelican made its dive and in an instant was pulling away from the water with a fish in its bill. Yosef could see the tail sticking out of the pelican’s bill as it flew away. He was a little jealous, it would be nice to have a bit of fish for himself to eat. It would be nice to be able fly too, he could be at Aunt Mara’s in no time. Finishing off the piece of bread Yosef jumped up and ran along the shore. Running would make up time but this running was about him being so excited, he couldn’t describe his feeling but he was having the best day ever.
Further up the shore, Yosef saw el-Batihah a great plain that began at the mouth of the Jordan and ran a long way south. Yosef heard stories of a great crowd filling the plain and listening to a Nazorean speak from the adjoining mountain. He tried to imagine how many people would be needed to fill el-Batihad and did not think there were enough people in all of Israel, so he decided the story couldn’t be true. Turning from the field back to the water something shinny flashed in the sun that caught his eye. The waves splashing up against a rock had pushed in some kind of netting. Yosef started pulling it out to discover it was a casting net. There would be no reason for this net to wash up, it was too important to a fisherman to lose. It made him wonder how it could have come to be tangled around a rock on the shore. He had seen nets like this before but never used one. His excitement rose and he said out loud to no one but himself, “this is my chance!”
Yosef dragged the net up onto the fields edge and spread it out in the sun. He thought letting it dry would make it easier to pull the sea plant and debris that had accumulated. It also allowed him to untangled and straighten the mesh and the line. The net is circular about fifteen feet in diameter, with fine mesh. Around the edge it has rocks tied for sinkers. A long piece of line is attached to the center of the net. This line is held by the left hand, and the net is gathered up in the right hand, and is cast with a broad sweep of that arm over shallow water near the shore. It would be cast wherever a shoal of fish is observed. The middle of the net is then drawn by the cord. Yosef watched with amazement when others had used a net like this to fish, so he knew it took some practice to get right. Finally untangled he left the net spread out in the sun knowing it would be dry in no time.
Yosef’s confidence was high so he gathered some dry drift wood and proceeded to build a cooking fire. He made a small “A” shape out of the wood and placed some really fine dried straw under it. He found a piece of flint on the way that he could strike against a rock for a spark. He gathered some milk thistle weed leftover from last fall in the field. He placed the soft dry material near the rock and began to strike with the flint. Sparks flew into the thistle and smoke began to rise. Yosef picked up the bundle and softly blew into the smoke and a flame began. He let it increase and then placed it near the straw under his wood. In no time a flame was growing and the wood became a blaze. Excited he went to ready the net.
Yosef pulled the dried sea weed and other debris off the net and made it look almost new. He grabbed the net in his right hand and the center line in his left and waded into the water. He looked around for the best place to cast. Once he decided on direction he gave the net a toss and it flew into the water – in a big clump. He pulled it back in one big ball. That didn’t work he thought. He adjusted and tried again and again. No matter how he tried he couldn’t get the net to fly open. He began to wonder if the weight around the edge were too much and maybe that is why someone left this useless net along the shore.
Almost ready to give up, he looked back to check on his fire and saw a man walking in his direction. He began to wonder if this man was coming for his net? Yosef thought of dropping the net and running off, but he couldn’t stop trying. If the man was going to take his net back he wanted to try as many times as he could before that happened. He didn’t know when he would have a chance like this again. He felt like his throws were getting better but so far the net was still coming back balled up and fish less.
Wading into the water the water next to Yosef the man said, “You aren’t having much luck?”
“No” said Yosef, “I have never fished like this before and I can’t get the net to fly open.”
The man said, “I began fishing with a cast net when I was smaller than you. Once you get the hang of it there is nothing to it.”
Yosef asked, “Are you a fisherman? Blurting out, I want to be a fisherman”
He said, “I am, but I haven’t fished in a few years. Here give me the net and let me show you.”
The man took the net from Yosef and grabbed the center line in his right hand, he curled the net over his hand making sure the weights on the edge were about two feet from his hand and tangle free, holding it all in his throwing hand. He had the center line tied around his wrist and he gave it a toss. The net opened and seem to float over the water dropping in a round big circle.
“You let it drop to the bottom and sit for a few minutes and then slowly pull it in.” the man told Yosef.
He handed the center line to Yosef and as instructed he waited and then began to pull, the net closed in on itself. Pulling it up they saw several small bait fish in the net. Yosef was pretty excited. And the man gave him a big smile.
“Now let’s look for something that you can eat,” said the man.
This time he explained to Yosef how to fold the net for a good throw. Yosef didn’t get it right away but soon he was casting the net out over the water and dropping it spread and ready for fish. Yosef was enjoying throwing the net so much he forget the purpose and just kept casting and pulling. He was doing it all too fast to let any fish become trapped.
The man slowed him down and asked him his name.
“I am Yosef from Gergesa and I am taking six barley loaves to my aunt in Bethsaida from my mother.”
“Well hello Yosef, I am Andrew from Bethsaida. I wonder if I might know you aunt?”
As they talked Yosef noticed a large crowd of people beginning to form out in the field. He thought that was unusual but was too excited about fishing to think anything more about it.
Suddenly Andrew noticed a big splash off in the deeper water and he encouraged Yosef to cast his net out far letting the center line go. Yosef threw the net further than before and let the line go, as the net sank he ran out deeper in the water to retrieve the center line. When he finally began to pull he knew immediately that something was in the net as it was heavier than before. He pulled and walked back toward the shore with Andrew encouraging him. As he reach the shore pulling the net they both saw two big fish trying to fight their way out of the net.
Yosef couldn’t be happier; wondering if that pelican could catch two big fish as he just had? Yosef’s grin grew and he couldn’t remember enjoying himself so much.
Andrew said, “It looks like fish and your mom’s bread for dinner tonight.” Yosef agreed with a huge smile on his face. He wished he could stay here forever.
They carried the net with the fish back to the fire. Andrew threw some more wood on the fire and Yosef went in search of two long green tree limbs to hold the fish over the fire. In his search he noticed the field filling in with more and more people. He noticed many were bandaged, or walking with crutches, some being carried, others being helped in some way or another. He wondered why they were there and what they were looking for?
He ran back to Andrew and the fire with two good sticks. Andrew had created a big burn off and the wood was turning into hot coal. They secured the fish to the sticks and then anchored the stick near the fire under a rock. They used another rock to angle the stick up and over the fire so the fish could slowly cook. They sat near the fire and watched. Yosef reached into his bag and pulled out the cloth with the bread. He took some of the half eaten loaf and gave the rest to Andrew. Andrew then said to Yosef, “Your mom may have sent six loaves of bread for your aunt but it looks like she’ll only receive five barley loaves.” They both broke out into laughter, and then sat in a tranquil mood as the fire did its job cooking the two fish.
The field continued to become flooded with people and Yosef wondered where they were all coming from and why they were gathering in the field. Maybe the rumors about the Nazorean were true, he did come to speak to the people in this field. He looked at Andrew and wondered what he thought. But as he was about to ask they both heard someone, “Brother come along, the teacher is ready!”
“Coming Simon,” shouted Andrew and in an instant he was on his feet running away from Yosef. He turned as he ran and yelled back to Yosef, “Enjoy the fish! You are going make a great fisherman!” Catching up to Simon they both ran toward the base of the mountain.
As Yosef watched them run off he saw a man coming down the mountain and his appearance excited the crowd in the field. Some began to cheer, all started moving toward the man and more people seemed to appear in the field as if from nowhere. Yosef thought he must be some great teacher to have so many followers. And he wondered if he should go meet him after he ate his fish. But for now he checked to see how they were coming.
Yosef laid back and looked up to the sky. He couldn’t be happier. He began to wonder if he would get to his aunt’s house before it got dark. He knew for sure he wouldn’t be able to return tonight, he would have to wait till morning.
Yosef pulled one of the fish toward him and pressed into its side checking to see if it was cooked, this was how his mother taught him to check cooked fish. Satisfied he decided to pull both fish from the fire and let them cool. He figured he would have to get going as soon as he ate so he decided to pack up the net and put it into his bag, feeling secure no one would be looking for it. He repacked the bread and waited for the fish to cool so he could eat.
He thought he heard his name being called but couldn’t imagine why. The people in the field seemed to be focused on their teacher and weren’t paying any attention to him. He heard his name again and looked toward the teacher to see Andrew waving at him. Andrew had come half way back and looked like he wanted Yosef to come to him. Yosef thought maybe he found the owner of the net and wanted to return it to him. Andrew clearly called him again and Yosef heard him say, “bring your fish and bread.” He couldn’t explain why he went but felt compelled to do as Andrew asked.
He took the bread out of his bag unwrapping it from the cloth. He put the bread back in his bag wrapping the fish in the cloth. He carried them in his hands and headed towards Andrew. The cloth kept the fish warm and the heat away from his hands. By the time he had reached Andrew he had rejoined the others and was talking with several of the men and women.
Andrew said, “Yosef, the teacher would like to have your fish and bread, he wants to feed the people that have come to see him.”
Yosef looked at their teacher and as they made eye contact he just handed the fish to Andrew and pulled the bread from his bag. Andrew brought the bread and fish to his master. Andrew then told the crowd to sit. The teacher raised his hands over the bread and fish and said some words that Yosef did not understand, but he knew must have been a blessing.
The teacher took the bread and fish out to the people who were reclining in groups and he started breaking off bread and fish for each. Yosef and the others, the teacher’s closest disciples were at the base of the mountain reclined and quietly watched as he the teacher went from group to group breaking off bread and fish. Yosef was surprised to see he continued; feeling certain he would run out at any moment. He watched as he broke the bread, and gave it, and broke the fish and gave it. The people seem to receive an abundance and were joyful and satisfied.
Everyone was so quiet that the sea could be heard lightly lapping against the shore. The teacher continued to feed everyone who was gathered. There were so many people Yosef could not see the end of them in the plain. He sat quietly with the others, each amazed the food continued to be available. As they watched the teacher breaking off bread and fish each somehow began to sense the miracle that was occurring. It took forever for the teacher to reach the last of the crowd.
As he walked back to the base of the mountain where Yosef and the others sat, the teacher still had fish and bread in his hands. When he reach them he broke off bread and fish for each of them, they were thankful for the nourishment as well. Last he came to Yosef and gave him what was left. As he handed him the last of the bread and the last of the fish he looked into Yosef’s eyes, touched his forehead and said, “peace be with you, Yosef.” Yosef returned the look, drawn to his beautiful eyes and felt like he was journeying toward the most peaceful place on earth. The teacher then speaking to his friends told them to find some large baskets and retrieve any leftover food. They quickly finished eating and did as he asked.
The people were all cheering and began shouting, “prophet, prophet, prophet.” The teacher didn’t acknowledge their shouting. He quietly turned and began walking back up the mountain where Yosef had seen him descending earlier. Yosef ate his bread and fish, not realizing how hungry he had been. When Andrew and his friends returned they had twelve baskets filled with fragments. Yosef couldn’t believe his eyes, there was more leftover than what they had started with. His two fish and five barley loaves had fed all those people and filled twelve baskets with scarps. How did this happen and who would believe him. Aunt Mara would tell his mother she never received any bread and the story he would tell would not be believed. Yosef wasn’t sure he believed it himself and he was a witness to it.
Yosef had so many questions as he thought of the teacher disappearing into the mountain. He looked at Andrew who smiled at him and said, “He does stuff like this all the time. Have you heard of Jesus of Nazareth?” Yosef just shook his head, remembering the story he heard about a Nazorean teaching in this field a long time ago.
“Yosef, he changes lives,” said Andrew. “He is the reason my brother and I are no longer fisherman. We completely changed our lives and have never been happier. You want to be a fisherman, I tell you following Jesus is something greater still.”
Yosef couldn’t imagine giving up fishing for anything. But the mood of everyone was something more joyful and exciting than even Yosef had been all day. Seeing the feeding of so many with so little was incredible. Yosef felt he had been part of something big. He looked out over the plain and the people were settling in for the night. Some small fires began to start throughout the field. For the first time Yosef noticed that darkness was settling over the sea and plain.
Some woman and men appeared from the crowd and spoke to Andrew’s brother Simon. Later Andrew explained they would take the baskets with them back to Bethsaida. A group formed that would make the hour walk to town, two people each carrying a basket.
Andrew knelt down to speak to Yosef telling him what was happening. He said he and his brother would be going with the other followers of Jesus to a boat crossing over to Capernaum tonight. He suggested Yosef go with the group to Bethsaida so he could make it to his aunt’s and not be out on his own in the night.
As they were talking they both heard his name called, “Yosef!”
Turning to the sound Yosef saw his Aunt Mara. Surprised to see each other they ran together and hugged. Andrew introduced himself to Aunt Mara and told her how grateful they were for Yosef’s help. Aunt Mara knew of the miracle that had just occurred but didn’t realize the little boy helping the teacher was her nephew. Then Yosef’s Uncle Tobias stepped up from the plain. Greeting Yosef who introduced him to Andrew. Tobias laughed as he said, “Andrew we have heard of you and your brother in Bethsaida and wanted to meet you. We knew you were disciples of Jesus. We follow him when we can as well. But I never would have thought you are a friend of our nephew Yosef. Do you know he dreams of fishing when he is suppose to be reciting his prayers?” They all had a good laugh at Yosef’s expense. The laughter didn’t bother Yosef but he did wonder how his uncle knew?
The conversation turned to why Yosef was here and he began to explain about the mission his mother had sent him to greet Aunt Mara. Andrew, his brother Simon and some others said their goodbyes and headed toward the sea. Each of the men came up and touched Yosef’s head and said some words he couldn’t understand. Then they all began walking toward the sea. Aunt Mara and Uncle Tobias took Yosef by the hand and headed toward Bethsaida hoping to catch up with the group that left ahead of them. Yosef was talking a mile a minute about the sea, the pelican, the net, the fish he caught and that it was his mother’s bread everyone had eaten. Aunt Mara said she thought it tasted familiar with a big smile. They all walked off with only the light of the moon to illuminate their path.
Yosef got quiet and looked up to the mountain wondering about this man who could do so much with so little. He began to think if this man could feed so many he must be able to do anything. He started asking Aunt Mara about him and she told of the stories she knew of the man from Galilee, the miracles he performed. How those who came to the plain with an infliction would be healed. She called him the Messiah and explained what that meant. Yosef was sure he heard the term before but now listened with new enthusiasm. She said he had brought hope to the people of Israel and they were expecting change because of him.
They began to talk about the journey to Jerusalem for Passover. Aunt Mara told Yosef they would probably see Jesus again during Passover, he had gone in years past. For the first time ever Yosef was looking forward to Passover and knew he would look all over to be sure to see Jesus.
Aunt Mara knew by his excitement that Yosef was not going to sleep much this night. She wondered how this experience would change him. There were not many who had met Jesus who who could resist wanting to be with him again. She remembered the first time she heard him speak and how her heart was on fire as she listened, it changed her. Before Jesus life had no real purpose but now she had hope and excitement and she looked forward to the future. She certainly wished this same excitement for Yosef.