This is a fictional story to put human flesh on the boy who gave up his fish and loaves for the five thousand. I completely made up everything, but maybe it will help us see this boy as a person and not just a name in typeface. Enjoy!
Theo’s eyes refused to open. Sleep had sealed them shut and even the obnoxious chickens in the front yard couldn’t rouse him.
The scream breezed in and halted right next to his ear drums and seemed to reverberate in between his ears. Theo wrapped the scratchy threads of his blanket closer around him and tried to tune out the sound.
In moments like this, Theo downright despised his name for being two syllables. Why couldn’t he be like the other kids, who had good-sounding, tongue-twisting names like Abinadab or Bizjothjah or Gath-rimmon. No one ran around screaming out those boys’ names.
Theo’s two-syllable name made the dull, gray morning even less desirable as he swung his bare feet to the cold, dirt floor. He rested his hands on the side of the cot and took a deep breath with half-open eyes and then slid his feet into leather sandals and laced them up his dusty calves.
“Yes! I’m here!” Theo grumbled, just as his sister Hannah appeared with mid-screaming mouth in the open doorway. Theo grabbed his satchel and slung it over his shoulder, barely hearing his sister’s endless chatter.
“…and because of that, I am still not ready to leave to get water for the well and you have to feed the animals because they have been bellowing all morning and you know I also woke up extra early to help Mama because Father set off for the Sea and don’t you remember that today you are going to the Sea of Galilee to be with Father? And–“
“Wait, what did you say?” Theo was extremely adept at tuning out his three sisters, but it sometimes kept him from important information, like today. “Did you say I’m to go to the Sea of Galilee to be with Father?”
“Yes, Theo, of course! Now, feed the animals so they will quit bellowing and ask Mama to pack your satchel with food for the meal. You don’t know how long you will be away today.” With that, Hannah smoothed her long mantle and tucked some stray, wind-swept strands into her chocolate braid.
Theo, with the news of his day’s agenda, startled himself into wakefulness and went about the morning chores all the time thinking about the gathering at the Sea of Galilee. His strong, calloused hands worked the burlap bags easily and before his sister could return to pester him, he had already finished. He rushed back inside, sending a cloud of smoke to cover him head to toe, and went in search of Mama.
“Mama! I’m to meet Father today at the gathering over at the Sea of Galilee. What have you to send with me for food? …But, I must hurry!” Theo had only heard rumors about all the commotion about prophets in the region lately, but he knew enough to know that the gathering at the Sea would be more interesting than a day working at home. A day at home would be filled to the brim with mundane chores and errands and two-syllables screams.
“Okay, okay. Calm down, Theo,” as she spoke Mama moved toward the kitchen to retrieve two fish from the ice drawer and loaves of barley bread from the pantry. “Take these to your father and bring back a full report. Even if your father doesn’t return tonight, I want you to be back before twilight, do you hear?”
“Mama, do I really bring fish? I am walking and you know how they will begin to stink on the way!!” Though almost 12, Theo still whined like a small child… especially about fish. “I don’t even like fish, Mama!”
“These fish are all I have to send, okay? Please, just take them to your father and refresh him with this food and your presence,” Mama now wrapped the fish in paper and carefully placed them in Theo’s satchel with five barley loaves.
Reluctant, Theo resigned to his duty, happy for the reprieve from chores but unsure about the prospect of smelling fish for the two-hour-long journey to the Sea.
“Okay, Mama.” His hazel cinnamon eyes smiled ever-so-slightly before he turned and started walking along the path.
After 15 minutes, Theo quickly realized that walking in the heat of the day was easily as horrible as doing chores at home. He spent the next 15 minutes arguing with himself which he would rather do. The argument ended without conclusion, except that both were undesirable and he had another hour and 30 minutes before he reached his destination. He could feel the sweat pooling on his back underneath his tunic and he shifted uncomfortably. The heat was unbearable.
Finally, he came upon the Sea and saw a great crowd assembling at the base of a mountain. He maneuvered his way (the benefits of his still-small frame) through the people to find his father. His eyes accustomed to the search for the broad-shouldered man, Theo found him quickly and they exchanged stories from the morning. Theo listened carefully as his father explained that the man, Jesus, had been speaking. The great mass of people had gathered abruptly, leaving work and daily agendas to hear the famed “healer” talk about authority and judgment and the glory of God.
Theo strained to see the man who had caused all the disruption, but could only see shoulders and beards. He raised his hand to feel his smooth jaw-line, silently wishing for the day he would have a full, man’s beard and strong, broad shoulders like his father. He brought his attention back to his father’s description,
“…and there’s nothing really unique about him. That’s the strange thing – everyone is drawn to him and his message, but no one exactly knows why. He talks about heaven and life and maybe we are desperate to hear about some hope. I don’t know, Theo, this man is either really dangerous or…. or…. well, I don’t know.”
Theo nodded along at his father’s words as he looked at the people around him. They all stood transfixed and in hushed conversation about the “healer” and his ways.
Suddenly, a small group seem to be conferring just above the crowd. Several in the group seemed agitated, but one man lifted his hands and placed them on their shoulders. He motioned out to the crowd and spoke a few more words before the men dispersed.
“That’s the one – the man in the center who just settled that dispute. That’s Jesus,” Theo’s father said.
Soon, the two men from the dispute were circling around the crowd and asking if anyone had any food. They walked amongst the crowd, searching (quite desperately) for someone who had food with them.
Without thinking, Theo approached one of the men and opened his satchel, “I have two fish and five barley loaves.” He looked up at the men and searched their eyes. A quiet burning pushed him to say again, “Did you hear? I have some fish and some barley loaves here in my satchel.” Theo lifted it up for their inspection.
The men nodded at one another and then, thanking Theo, swooped into his satchel and left it limp at his side. They wove back through the crowd, asking the same question, “Does anyone have any food?”
Theo returned to his father who stood with an unpleasant, furrowed brow. “And now, son, what do you expect us to eat?”
“Uh, I… I don’t know father. I just, well, I don’t know what happened. I saw they needed food and remembered I had some. I couldn’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t give it to them…. I….”
Before Theo could finish, the man named Jesus was holding the loaves and the fish and blessing them. Theo looked twice and a third time to make sure the man was the “healer” and that what he had in his hands were the very stinky fish he had carried in his satchel. Having confirmed these things, he began to squirm through the crowd to get a closer look. Within minutes he was at the very front, watching Jesus motion for the men to bring him the baskets.
Theo realized that his food was the sole contribution to the questions from the men earlier. And now, Theo watched as the man named Jesus blessed and broke his bread and filled baskets with it. The five barley loaves seemed never to grow smaller, only breaking off into more pieces. Now, Jesus was telling the men to pass the bread around so everyone would eat and be full. Theo thought for sure the fish would be a personal meal for the healer, but it was not so. The man named Jesus took the fish next and broke it and filled baskets for the men to pass around.
Theo stood incredulous as the baskets passed by him and he took from the bounty. He could have filled his whole satchel several times with what he saw in front of him. Then the basket passed with the fish and again Theo marveled at the way the food had multiplied right in front of his eyes. Even the long journey with smelly fish seemed a small thing compared to this crowd enjoying a full meal.
He came only with two fish and five loaves and gave it away without knowing why. Now, he saw that all he gave was multiplied for thousands of people. Twelve baskets stacked up around the edges of the crowd because the people couldn’t eat another bite!
This was no ordinary day and no ordinary adventure and no ordinary healer. Theo silently declared he would be willing to give much more to a man like this.