I’ve always been intrigued by a particular detail in every one of the accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes. As the gospels all tell it, before Jesus took the bread and fish and multiplied it to feed the hungry crowds he had everyone sit down in green grass. The writers of scripture go out of their way to highlight the fact that there was green grass in the area and that Jesus wanted the people to sit down on it before he acted.
Why did Jesus do this? Why didn’t he just take the bread and fish and turn it into a feast with the people standing up? Why did the grass have to be “green?” Would it have made a difference if it was “straw-colored” instead? Obviously, we’ll never know for sure. But I have to believe those two details are important or they wouldn’t be there for us to read.
Of course, green reminds us of the green pastures of Psalm 23 – perhaps the most gentle, peaceful, bucolic image scripture has to offer. Green pastures remind us of calmness and tranquility – the perfect companion of “still waters.” With nary a breeze to be felt, the green pastures adjacent calm waters are as far from the stormy tempests of life as could possibly be.
And sitting down is the opposite of, well, standing up. Standing up implies readiness – being prepared to move, to follow, to serve, to witness, to testify. Standing up signifies action. Sitting down, on the other hand, evokes images of reclining around an evening meal – after the feet have been washed and with the hard work of the day receding in the proverbial rear-view mirror. Sitting down implies rest and relaxation. So maybe it is fitting that Jesus had the crowd take a seat in the green grass before performing the miracle. It was his way of saying “Relax. I’m here. I’m in control. I’m going to do this work and you can sit back and trust that it will be done in your midst.” Taking a seat in green grass represents letting go and having faith. It is noteworthy that Jesus had the crowd sit down in the green grass after he took the bread and fish from them but before he performed the miracle. The bread and fish came from them. They brought him what they had. They placed it in his hands. And then, before he did anything with them, they sat down in green grass. It is as though this signals the transfer of trust – from our own abilities and resources to Christ. Our abilities and resources only take us so far. But in the hands of Christ, we see them to be more than they ever were in our own. And that… that change of view; change of perspective… is a miracle.
Sitting down in green grass, far from being an oddity in the story that might seem superfluous, has come to stand out in my mind as perhaps the most significant detail of them all.