Seeing the Impossible Differently
Phillip was a disciple who didn't get a lot of ink in the Gospels. But he did get a question posed to him that we, who lead in crisis, would do well to pay attention to. So, if I might be allowed to expand this familiar story, maybe there is a truth to be learned about facing the impossible.
My name is Phillip and I am from Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. You probably know Peter and his brother Andrew, they were also from Bethsaida and the three of us were disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. We were proud of our little hometown and often referred to ourselves to the rest of our group as the ‘Boys from Bethsaida”. Much of the time we spent with Jesus those few years was around Galilee and, therefore, was familiar turf to us. We knew, well, the towns and the trails, the cities and the people. The trips we made up to Jerusalem and over to Tyre and to the other side of the Jordan were always an adventure, but Galilee, well, Galilee was home.
Knowing the area was helpful to our band of followers. We knew where to find good bread and good wine. We knew where to sit where Jesus could be heard when he taught the crowds. We knew the shortcuts and when it was better to go by boat than by sandal. We knew where people lived and moved and tended to congregate and even where to go when people needed to be avoided – or so we thought. And that brings me to my story.
One very busy day we were all hanging out in the hills next to the sea, a little closer to Capernaum than Bethsaida if I remember right. Come to think of it, places like this were the favorite spots for Jesus. He taught in homes and synagogues, for sure, but he loved the sea and the grassy hills; the cool breezes and the big sky. He and I were a lot alike in that way…but I digress.
That particular day, after a long period of caring for what seemed like an ever growing number of people, I could see the weariness in Jesus’ eyes. Still mourning from the death of his cousin, John, he had been going practically non-stop for some time now. He was flat out tired and needed some time away from the demands of people. There are times when ‘getting away’ seems best done by boat and this was one of them. Piling into the boat and pushing off from shore was pretty much telling the crowd ‘the show is over’, ‘we are done for the day’. We weren’t going far, we had a boat and no one else in the crowd did. And as soon as the wind filled our sail we all began to relax.
The thing is, we underestimated the tenacity of the crowd. While we were sure that they would call it a day and head back home it turned out that some figured out where we were headed and talked the rest into following the shoreline in that direction. And so they came strung out along the shore as far as the eye could see - like ants, one at a time, following the person in front of them, determined at all cost to find their way to where Jesus was going. I have to tell you, it was both frustrating and amazing. When we landed the boat at our place of intended rest, some of the younger people were already arriving.
A little while later, as we sat up on the hill watching the incredible sight of hundreds and hundreds of people working their way to where we were. We didn’t say much as we quietly contemplated the scene in our own way. I have to smile, now, when I realize that the thoughts going through my head at that time were most likely not the same ones going through Jesus’ head. But what I will always remember is when Jesus turned to me and said, “Philip, where can we buy bread to feed all of these people?” I don’t know if it was the absurdity of the question or the fact that I was pretty frustrated that our day seemed far from over – but my immediate response was to laugh. I then said the first thing that entered my head with more than a little attitude – “Even if we worked for months we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them”. As it turned out I was wrong. Well, actually, I was right – it would take months of salary to pay for everyone’s lunch. But I was answering the wrong question. Jesus asked ‘where’ and I was answering ‘how’ or in this case, ‘how not’.
Jesus was saying to me, ‘they need to be fed and we must do something about it’. I was thinking, ‘we don’t even come close to having the means to do that’. He then responded to my rational response by saying ‘you feed them’. Though I didn’t understand it at the time, with that simple command Jesus was asking me to think about what I have, not about what I don’t have. What we had was the One who had turned water into wine; gave hearing to the deaf; sight to the blind. We had one who was not bound by the limitations of our rational thinking. And when we discovered we had five loaves and two fish He demonstrated before our very eyes that it was enough.
Jesus was testing this boy from Bethsaida that afternoon in Galilee. He knew I knew what the cost of bread and fish was in those parts. He knew I knew how much money would be needed and even where that food might be found. He also knew that I hadn’t come to grips yet with the reality of who he was and how he should not be counted out of any equation. When we finally did leave this crowd behind with full stomachs and hearts, I began to learn to see the impossible differently.