The understated, two-tiered fountain is a familiar part of my home city’s CBD streetscape. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past it. We wind our way by en route to the best lolly shop in town. My son likes to sprint around it in giddy glee as I stand in the sun nearby, letting him run off some energy. We have peered into the water, looking for coins and other treasure. We have laughed at bubbles foaming from its brim the day after some teenager tried that familiar gag with the dishwashing liquid.
The historic little fountain in Launceston’s Quadrant Mall is so much a part of the furniture to a local that it almost disappears.
So, when I strolled past it for the umpteenth time, a stone’s throw from the deli, just beyond the optometrist and the florist, on my way to the gift shop, it was same old, same old.
Until I looked up.
Right at the top of that modest little fountain is a bronze statue of a boy holding two fish; one cradled in the crook of his right elbow, the other clasped in his hands. Chubby little legs and feet poke from beneath a draping smock or tunic and his face is tilted towards the contents of his hands with a look of contentment. He might be four, five at the most.
I’ve seen this before, I thought.
When Jesus was touring around, teaching his revolutionary messages of love and peace and hope, every so often things like fatigue, cramped quarters and hunger tried to get in the way of his ability to deliver.
Case in point: Jesus was in Galilee with his disciples when a crowd gathered. We’re not talking Tassie proportions here, where a crowd might be 50 or 200 on a good day. We’re talking 5,000.
Jesus looked out over all those hungry faces and said, “What are we going to feed them?!” Immediately I think of that ad… how does it go… “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry!”
I’m thinking Jesus didn’t want to contend with 5,000 grumpy geezers, and that particular cure-all chocolate bar wasn’t yet invented.
Of course, Jesus knew the answer to his own question; he was just testing his disciple Philip’s problem solving strategies. And his faith. You can hear the peak in Philip’s voice and the sweat breaking out on his brow when he replies, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7).
Then, a boy is brought to Jesus. The boy has five small barley loaves and two small fish.
The bronze statue of the boy clutching two fish in the Quadrant Mall is suddenly full of meaning. This is why it was familiar.
Jesus went on to play host to an unprecedented picnic of 5,000. He told them to pull up a patch of grass and get comfortable, he said grace and they tucked in to a filling meal of fish sarnies. When they’d done, Jesus told the disciples to gather the leftovers and it filled 12 baskets. Five loaves of bread and two fish fed 5,000 people with leftovers.
Can you believe this?
There were 5,000 witnesses to the miracle. With the distance of time we may query its validity but for the people sitting on the grass in front of Jesus 2,000 years ago, it was as real as the food in their bellies.
What I love most about this part of Jesus’ life story is its application to our lives today. Jesus took a little and turned it into a lot.
Jesus took a child – what could a mere child contribute?
Jesus took what was in that child’s hand – what could these meagre provisions achieve?
Jesus took the faith of his people – it was small but it was present.
Binding these tenuous threads of humanity, Jesus performed an act of God. He’s still doing it today through broken people with next to nothing in their possessions except faith the size of a mustard seed.
Perhaps next time you wander past the fountain in Launceston’s Quadrant Mall you’ll look up at the boy with the fish and pray a simple prayer: Jesus, take what I have in my hands and use it.
Fist published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday June 8, 2015.