Sometimes it’s the little details that matter. When I was licensed by the bishop to this parish, I had to affirm in his presence that I would render him due obedience ‘in all things lawful and honest’. Unfortunately, on the printed licence what he and I actually signed was that I would obey him in all things ‘awful and honest’. It’s only one ‘l’ – what’s the big deal?!
Over the last 150 years it’s become common to doubt the historicity of Jesus’ miracles. Lots of scholars will talk about them being useful ‘myths’, or that there was some scientific explanation for them. My view has always been that everyone has a problem with miracles until they see one themselves! And when you’ve seen one, you don’t have a problem with miracles anymore.
So, I don’t need persuading to believe that Jesus really did feed thousands of people with one packed lunch. I suspect most of you don’t, either. But it’s very useful that Mark includes one small word that is nearly always overlooked in any discussion of this story – and that is the word ‘green’. Jesus instructs his disciples to make people sit down ‘on the green grass.’
Probably part of the reason this makes no impression on us in the UK is that this sounds like a tautology. Of course grass is green! What other colour would it be? But in the semi-arid country above the Sea of Galilee, most grass was yellow or brown. (Turns out the grass is not always greener, after all.) Jesus specifically chooses a lush area to seat people, before he blesses them with this amazing miracle.
The fact that Mark includes this tiny detail makes it much more likely we are receiving the account of an eye-witness who was really there. There’s no reason to include it, otherwise. Tradition holds that Peter was the apostle who provided much of Mark’s material – who was indeed one of the disciples arranging the seating of the hundreds and fifties. Recounting his memories years later, it was still striking to him that Jesus wanted people to sit on the green grass.
We worship a real God who meets real people (like us) in real ways. Give thanks for the ways in which this real God has met you. And why not pray for the blessing of more real encounters – both for you, and for others.