During this harvest season, some of us at CMSI have been reflecting on the 'Feeding Of The 5,000' as we prepare sermons and video inputs for services in various link parishes. This week, I was preparing for the online harvest service at St Paul’s, Diamond Grange (Armagh Diocese). The rector, Canon David Hilliard, requested I make the talk child-friendly. With my background as a teacher and youthworker (long years ago now!) I’m always glad to be asked to do this, but this perspective threw a different light on the Bible passage (Matt 14:13-21).
Reading the text from a child’s point of view, we discover that the story shouldn’t actually be called 'The Feeding Of The 5000' because we discover that this number refers only to the men - “not counting the women and children” (v21; GNB). We know that Jesus often attracted children (presumably because of his great story-telling gifts), and on several occasions made a point of underlining their importance (“Let the children come to me, and don’t stop them, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” - Matt 19:14).
We also know that one motive for the crowd following Jesus around the lakeshore was to obtain healing for their sick (v14) – which must have included children (as well as women). Since we know that Jesus had many female followers, it is therefore safe to assume that the actual number in the crowd was significantly bigger than 5000 – maybe as many as 10,000 or even more.
Although none of the four gospel-writers record the actual number of children, John alone highlights the presence of a boy (John 6:9), whose willingness to share his packed lunch sparks off the whole miraculous feast. We see from this how easy it is to overlook children – to unconsciously (or sometimes consciously) think they should be “seen and not heard”. And yet, including them is important – indeed the contribution they make might be absolutely key.
This is something reflected in Tartaraghan and Diamond Parish, not just by the rector, but by many others in the church who have been keen to include children in mission over many years.
One of these is Eleanor Troughton, who told me she first got interested in mission around 50 years ago when the then rector, Canon Hopcroft, took her along to a CMS meeting in Belfast. After this, she helped set up a CMS Discoverer Club in the parish – an organisation that encouraged children “to discover how they can help to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the world.”
Eleanor’s group thrived over the years, and she told me with a gleam in her eye how it has resulted in a long list of church members going out on short or long term overseas mission service, including her son Mark, daughter Charlotte-Anne, and the current CMSI parish rep Richard Robinson. (Eleanor is pictured above, with Charlotte-Anne, Richard and me).
“These mission placements have had a huge impact on their lives”, Eleanor told me, “it really made their faith grow, and in many cases inspires them in what they’re doing today”.
Let’s avoid the temptation not to count the children, but rather follow Eleanor’s example and include them. You never know where it might lead!