Uncle Walt, Stone Soup, Loaves and Fishes

April 18, 2021

Children are my favorite humans. 

Children see the world through the lens of endless possibilities. They see no reason why the things they dream cannot become reality.  For a child, the world of pretend isn’t a figment of her imagination to grow out of; it is the world as he knows it can be: a world of mystery and adventure, where everyone matters, is heard and seen, and goodness always wins the day; a world where, as ‘Uncle Walt’ Disney quipped: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”  

Maybe that’s why ‘all things Disney’ are such kid magnets. ‘Uncle Walt,’ as he was affectionately known, honored the world children see; At least, the world they see until  grown-ups jump in with their idea of a reality check: ‘It’s all pretend! Grow up!’  

What a shame! A world of endless possibilities and the revealed mystery of goodness is exactly what God had in mind ‘in the beginning.’

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Throughout children’s literature, this wonderful world is nurtured in so many stories which bring out the goodness of humanity in spite of itself.  

Stories like: Stone Soup

Maybe you know the story:  Folks living in a famine-ridden country hoard what they have in order to survive, (think the early days of COVID and grocery shelves before a snow storm). Then a stranger comes to town, but is told to move on – the town has nothing to share. 

No worries! The stranger starts a camp fire, pulls a cooking pot from his cart, puts it over the fire, fills the pot with water, drops a ‘magic stone’ into the pot, and waits…..

‘Ah,’ the man sighs loudly, ‘if only there were some cabbage…..some potatoes….some carrots… and with each ‘if only,’ villagers show up with ‘just the thing.’ 

 The result?  An amazing soup with plenty for all. Folks who once hoarded now sacrificially share and then gather at table united at the feast and a town is transformed! 

Nice – but it’s all pretend! This is the real world, my adult self says, so okay, how about a real life example from scripture? John 6:1-14, maybe?! 

Perhaps you know the passage: it is about when Christ fed 5000 men and all their wives and children from….you guessed it – a young boy’s lunch pail containing 2 loaves and 5 fishes.  

When I was re-reading that passage this week, something was staring me in the face that I had failed to notice before. 

It seems the disciples might have been holding back. Look at verses 5-6.  

Jesus asks: ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ Basically, what seemingly impossible possibilities will solve this need?

Philip gives the Lord a very grown up answer:  “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Notice, Philip doesn’t say there are no funds, just that it would be REALLY costly to do what Jesus intimates!  The disciples had money, after all Judas was their financial manager!  John 13:29 But even so – get real, Jesus – what could their funds possibly do? 

This is when the little boy shows up. 

The boy doesn’t degrade his offering by saying: ‘what I have isn’t much, but here you go,’ or put conditions on his offering: ‘I can give you half a loaf and one fish, but I need some, too!’

The child just brings his entire lunch to Jesus, apparently confident that this can make a difference! 

This is the world as it should be! A world where possibilities are limitless and our usefulness exceeds our expectations! Jesus apparently thinks so, too. He blesses and breaks the elements of the child’s lunch and gives it to the disciples to distribute to the crowds. 

Now, grownups reading this passage typically try to find ways to rationalize this miracle – this holy sign of Who Jesus is. I wonder why that is?  Perhaps if it can rationalized, it lets the grownups off the hook from embracing life in a world of wonder, limitless possibilities, and mystery – perhaps rationalizing Jesus’ work and teachings makes our Lord more manageable and acceptable to grown up expectations and comfort zones.

What happened on that hillside is beyond rationalization – it was a miracle of holy transformation – be that of a lunch increased or of a bunch of hungry grownups who learned from a child and begin sharing – exceeding all rational expectations.  

But so what? Well, remember Jesus’ words in another text: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ (Matthew 19:14

Just think about that….

The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who come as children. This isn’t about naiveté, but about approaching the world with holy wonder.

It’s about trusting beyond ourselves and trusting into Christ; seeing with His eyes, hearing with His ears, loving with His heart; becoming those who don’t accept the grownup limitations placed on the dream of world peace: who dream of a world in which social justice for all without limitation is not political rhetoric but essential to life itself, who dream of a world community united in love of God and each other.  

These may seem like impossible dreams but they are the realities of life in God’s kingdom – that kingdom we so often pray about but don’t actually expect…once we become grownups. 

I have always thought it strange that the ones who always read the scripture and basically dismiss Christ’s teachings as impossible to achieve are the grown-ups.  “Christianity is nice in theory, but this is the real world!”  What a shame – grownups trying to limit the very things Christ came to teach!

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I can imagine Jesus smiling at hearing the story of Stone Soup. He had his own stone-Peter; the first stone put in the pot in anticipation of the holy meal the church was intended to become as those who follow Christ give themselves over to the heavenly feast ourselves.  Unfortunately, we often behave like rationalizing grownups hoarding who we are and the spiritual gifts and graces we have been given. We have become accustomed to living in a spiritual famine. 

But here’s the thing….

The Bible isn’t a fairy tale – it is the reality of God’s interaction with the creation – culminating in life-giving, life-sacrificing, new life offering of the Master Teacher and StoryTeller – God’s own Son!  God’s kingdom isn’t the Disney World of Uncle Walt – it is God’s world as it should be.

In our ‘grownup world’ of negativity and dashed dreams, what would happen if we began to dream God’s dreams again and do it?

What if we willingly and sacrificially offered, not our vegetables or lunches, but our gifts and graces, to the holy stew pot; letting all that we are and all that we have become part of the kingdom feast where all are welcome, all are satisfied, and all become part of the community of the impossible possibilities inherent in being kingdom people!

So, let the children come!  And guess what? We’re all God’s children!  I hear a stew pot bubbling – hungry people grumbling – the need is great – what are you bringing to the table?

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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