I’m Tobias, people call me Toby*; will you come with me on a journey as I share my story with you? It’s a story of tragedy, renewal, and hope; it’s challenging at times but maybe the ending can be the beginning of a new story for you?
My story starts with my good friend and mentor, John; you’ll know him better as John the Baptist, the man who told of the coming of the saviour. I was one of John’s disciples, I was there the day Jesus came to the river to be baptised; I saw the heavens open and a dove descend on Jesus, I heard a loud voice calling Jesus God’s son.
I was also there when they arrested John and took him away and was one of the disciples that collected John’s decapitated body and took it for burial. It was horrible, I felt sick and was devastated, my friend, my mentor, my leader, my teacher was gone, brutally killed; I was inconsolable, lost, wandering in a daze, all hope had left me.
As I staggered around, exhausted, fearful for my own life, filled with grief and loss, I saw people hurrying to the lake. First little groups of four or five, families and friends, then more, hundreds thronging the road, all in a rush. Some tripped and fell and were helped to their feet, disabled and sick people were being carried or guided, soon there were thousands. For a moment I forgot my grief as I marvelled at the sight!
I asked what was going on and someone said that Jesus and his disciples were landing by the shore. Jesus had been going around preaching and teaching and healing people, so had his disciples. I suddenly remembered John again and my grief hit me hard. For a while all I could do was to sit at the side of the road and weep. A woman and her children went by, one of the children was carrying a basket with some bread and fish in it, the smell of the food turned my stomach. A few paces on she suddenly stopped, looked round, and came back to me, “What on earth is the matter with you?”, she said. I told her about John, she said “Why not come and listen to Jesus, I’ve heard amazing things about him, maybe he will make you feel better.” And then she was gone as the crowd rushed towards the lakeside.
I didn’t want to listen to Jesus, I wasn’t ready to listen to anyone, the person I longed to listen to most was gone, dead. I slowly started to trudge in the opposite direction to the crowd, desperate to get away, but it was impossible, there were too many people, and they were in too much of a rush. I got knocked down and almost trampled. I had no choice but to let the crowd swallow me up and pull me along with it.
It was overwhelming; in my grief the last thing I needed was so many people, the noise, the smells, people crushing me, my head was spinning, I felt faint, and it was only all the people pressing against me that stopped me from falling. Eventually, we reached the lake; Jesus and his disciples had arrived, and Jesus was talking to the huge crowd that had gathered, there must have been many thousands of men, women and children there.
I couldn’t get away, so I found a relatively quiet spot and listened to what Jesus was saying. He was teaching from the Bible, and it was amazing! There were thousands there, but it was like he was speaking just to me! Then, he looked in my direction, right at me, and he smiled, and as he smiled everything suddenly seemed to change; I have never felt such joy. I still was sad for John, but I felt alive again, renewed in body, mind, and soul. Nourished like never before, new hope was rising in me; hope that had died with John was being resurrected by Jesus.
The crowd suddenly didn’t feel so oppressive and overwhelming any more. I realised that people nearby were looking at me, it was because I was laughing! Laughing with the release from fear and hopelessness and despair!
Jesus and the disciples were talking to each other, and I noticed that the woman and her children who had stopped to speak with were near to them. The disciples were looking in the boy’s basket and he handed it to them. The disciples then started to get us into groups of 50 to 100, I ended up in the same group as the woman and her children. I smiled at her and mouthed “Thank you!”, she smiled back and mouthed “Glad you came.”
Then something extraordinary happened; Jesus prayed over the boy’s loaves and fishes and the disciples started handing out the food. Suddenly, I realised how hungry I was; I hadn’t eaten for days, since collecting John’s body from the palace. I hadn’t wanted to eat, the image of John’s mutilated body in my mind had made it impossible, but now that image was diminished, lessened. That smile from Jesus had healed me in ways beyond my comprehension.
As the baskets reached our group I hungrily ate, but amazingly the more we ate the more there seemed to be! I was completely full, as were we all, but there was still plenty left. How had so many thousands been satisfied from a few loaves and fishes? It was miraculous!
I helped the disciples to collect the leftovers, twelve baskets full. As I helped to serve the people I sensed a new purpose, a new calling on my life. I could follow Jesus and in doing so John and his teaching could live on in me while I continued to learn from Jesus and serve others. I felt alive again, hope filled me. The woman with the children that had spoken to me walked by on their way home; I stopped her and thanked her again, I told her that she was right, Jesus had made me feel better, better than I had ever felt before, better than I could put into words…
Maybe her invitation could help you too… “Why not come and listen to Jesus, I’ve heard amazing things about him, maybe he will make you feel better.” You’ll be glad you came!
*Note: Toby is a made-up character, but his story is loosely based on the events described in the Gospel’s. In the Gospel’s of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the account of the feeding of the 5,000 is preceded by the beheading of John the Baptist. Jesus’ disciples had been sent out into the country in pairs to preach and heal and had just returned. See Mark Ch. 6 for a full version of the Bible story.
With thanks to Serena McCarthy, my friend and colleague at Urban Saints, for inspiring this story.
Story © Mark Arnold; images © 2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
They Carried Me There But I Walked Home!
Jesus Heals A Boy With Epilepsy: The Story From The Boy’s Perspective