Miracle at Tiberias
By Mark Norris
It had been a strangely disorienting day for Bartholomew and the other disciples. News of John the Baptist’s death unsettled everyone, even their Master, this time to the point of abandoning them during daylight leaving them to bicker among themselves. They were used to Jesus’ frequent prayer trips that had Him away during the night. But His absence in the daytime was discomforting and new.
The sunlight glistening off of Galilee’s bouncing waves lulled Bartholomew into a trance. His mindless gaze penetrated the lake’s shifting waters through to its gently sloping floor.
Back by the fire, Peter and Andrew were at it again. This time over God’s sovereignty and the Baptist’s cruel fate.
“Why did Jesus leave us this time? I’ll tell you why!” the words of Peter echoed, “because this time with the Baptist, the whole thing caught Him off guard!”
“No it didn’t!” Andrew cut in protectively. “I will grant you it got Him very upset!”
“Upset?!” Peter interrupted again, “shocked is more like it!”
“No He wasn’t!” Andrew countered, “He just needed some time alone!”
“Oh brother…,” muttered Bartholomew from beneath the woolen hood shielding his head from the brisk November air.
“Again, the fisherman from Capernaum are always at it again…”
The darkness of a shadow suddenly penetrated the solace of Bartholomew’s retreat. It was the slender frame of his young ministry partner, Thaddeus, the only clean shaven one in the bunch, and that because his twenty-year-old beard simply refused to grow. The pug-nosed former pottery craftsman was the gangly, philosophical Bartholomew’s best friend. They had been true soul mates ever since Jesus put them together when sending out the twelve.
“We should look for him,” said Thaddeus. “The day is almost gone.”
“I know,” Bartholomew answered. “But he said to leave him alone.”
“That’s true, but he should have been back,” Thaddeus started to say, but was interrupted by the approaching yells of James, John, and Matthew as they scurried into camp from their supply trip in town.
“He’s on the other side of Galilee!” Matthew gasped.
“We’ve just spoken to a group whose friend Jesus healed there two hours ago!”
“The Master’s down there surrounded by thousands,” wheezed John. “Come on! He’s over there alone!”
Peter doused the fire while everyone poured into the boat. By now everyone had become reasonably competent sailors. Once they were in place, Peter and Andrew raised the sail, and a strong headwind shot them away from Capernaum toward the Sea of Tiberias’ southwestern shore.
Peter spoke out a prayer for God’s protection as the craft tossed against Galilee’s breaking waves.
Soon, all were joined in chorus with their favorite synagogue songs. The minor riffs and flowing harmonies of a popular rendition of Psalm 91 found meter in the waves that slapped against the boat.
“A thousand may fall at your side…”clap! clap!
“A thousand may fall at your right hand…” clap! clap!
“But it will never approach you…for you have made Him most high!”
When they caught their final headwind that pushed them a half-mile from shore, the thronging mass ascending the hillside came clearly into view.
Peter stopped the singing. “Why didn’t he send for us?!” he shouted.
“Look at all those people! He’s out there with them alone! When we land, everyone quickly up the hill! No telling how long the Master has been there…,look at that crowd!”
The rest said nothing as they anxiously awaited Tiberias’ shore.
Once ashore the twelve sloshed through water’s edge, broke through the crowd, and sprinted up the slope to where Jesus and the masses seemed to be quietly at rest. The sun was now splashing an orange hue about the hillside as the lake’s western slope slowly swallowed it whole.
A rugged, strong man with sun-worn chiseled features, Peter’s naturally muscular torso always pushed him farther and faster than the other eleven in the group. Arriving twenty feet ahead of them, he stopped and panted as the others drew near.
“Master! Why did you not send for us to help you here today?” Peter huffed.
Then Matthew caught up and cut in, “All day we have been concerned over the Baptist, and over you…never have you left us like this in the daytime before!”
Throwing the two a warm, endearing glance, Jesus politely motioned His arms over the thousands in the crowd, then shrugged His shoulders slightly and very apologetically said, “Forgive me loved ones, I did want some time, but these recognized and came. All day have I loved and healed them, and I just didn’t get word to you to come. It should be enough that they are here, and now, so are you.”
“Yes Master,” John said, eyeing the mass of humanity covering the hill, “but the place is desolate, and the time is already past. So send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
“They don’t need to go away,” Jesus answered. “You give them something to eat!”
The twelve glanced around at one another in a puzzled grimace.
“Philip!” Jesus commanded, calling him out from behind the other eleven.
“Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” Jesus asked while grasping His chin in a professorial pose and glaring winsome at His shy friend.
Philip was always the one who seemed to bring up the ministry team’s far rear. A shy, good-natured lad, he was always the last one to arrive anywhere. And he was always the last one, if ever, to speak. He looked around hesitantly at his snickering companions, then timidly replied, “Two hundred days wages worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little…” But before he could continue, Andrew, wanting to rescue him, quickly broke in.
“Uh, there is a boy here, Master, who has five barley loaves and two fish,” Andrew said coyly while gesturing with his right hand over the multitudes.
“But what are these for so many?”
Impressed with Andrew’s understanding, Jesus acknowledged his wit with a congratulatory smile, then turned to the masses and commanded them to sit in fifty and hundred member groups. He then took the loaves and fish from the little boy’s lunch, looked up to heaven, blessed the food and broke the bread, when a whistling sound broke in.
For a brief second the twirling wind stirred upward as an overwhelming smell of myrrh and cinnamon filled the air. Then, suddenly out of nowhere, bread and fish piled around Jesus and began sliding down the hill.
“Give them to the people!” Jesus shouted.
The explosive aroma of freshly baked bread now completely overpowered a smell of cinnamon and myrrh as thousands of lake mucht and loaves covered the hill.
Flushed and teary-eyed, Peter attempted to bark a few orders, but was stupefied by the sight and couldn’t even speak.
Thaddeus and Bartholomew sang a song and twirled in dance together, then ran to join the others who were stuffing the wicker baskets that also miraculously appeared.
Dumbfounded on their knees, James and John scrambled to their feet and exuberantly joined in.
After entreating the assistance of Judas, Thomas, and Philip, Andrew was well toward the end of directing the second serving of their groups. It was Andrew, after all, who was the first to recognize Jesus because of his fellowship with the Baptist. And it was Andrew, more often than not, who was quickest at the Master’s tests.
Once the other eleven organized, there were about five thousand men, aside from the women and children, who ate that day.
“Miracle! Miracle!” shouted the masses while they rejoiced in their heavenly meal.
When everyone received their fill, Jesus directed the twelve to return ahead of Him while He sent the multitudes away.
The disciples didn’t want to leave him, but they finally agreed after Jesus? third, “Beloved, GO!”
As they sailed north into Galilee’s moonlit glow, Peter, standing astern with his arm around his brother struck up another chorus of their famous two part harmonies, this time of, “Messiah, King of David.”
“Messiah King of David…take your throne…”
“Shepherd us your people…come unto your own…”
Three seats back, Bartholomew and Thaddeus clapped their hands in rhythm, then joined in with the others in song. Turning to his left where Matthew always sat, Bartholomew exulted in glee, “Again, the fishermen from Capernaum, are always at it again!”
From the rear of the craft, James, the evening’s rudder man clamored, “Where to beloved? Where to?”
While the others continued merrily, Peter broke his song, “To the other side beloved! To Capernaum!” then he quickly joined back in.
(Fictionalized by Mark Norris from Matthew 14:13-22; Mark 6:33-45; and John 6:5-13.)
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