Matthew notes that after a crisis and major disruption in the disciples’ lives, Jesus’ first words to them were and are: “Greetings.” and “Do not be afraid.”
My Gospel reading has brought me to a passage that Mark records about one of the most creative experiences of the disciples: a very unusual and non-traditional approach to deal with a panicky situation, which involved those that wanted to be taught by Christ.

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.” “With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” (Mark 6, NLT)
A stressful situation causing a panic among the disciples leads to a miracle, but not before the disciples start off with the question: “With what?”. Our human minds always want to start with the “how” and the “what”. Their first assessment is a fear-driven statement that equals “it cannot be done”, “it is impossible”, “it has not been done before”.
Jesus teaches them and us a new approach of coping and dealing with community (church, school, etc.) situations. It seems that times like this provide teachable moments for disciples around Jesus. Are we having our teachable moments? Perhaps, we need to start by learning to ask new questions altogether, since the old questions fail us. Questions that will lead us away from the sense of the impossible and the attitude of “it has not been done before”, and “we’d have to earn or raise enough money”, and “it cannot be done”, to the “with God possible” approach that Jesus chose for himself – and his disciples, if only they are ready to learn. It takes humility to take routes that seem below the ones that has already gained our approval. Surely, we go through phases when we admit: “All right, it can be done, but it is not the best.”

“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”

We are facing unprecedented challenges and situations. We need a few miracles here: just as much in us, as through us. Perhaps we are still in the “with what?” and “we’d have to work for months” phase. Or perhaps, we are going through the “go and find out” phase of our assessment of the crisis and our task forces are working hard on the contingency plans to show forth our five loaves of bread and two fish, which was pretty good or barely enough even for the original set up. This time will require all our learning, assessing, reflecting, reporting, hard working, creating, planning and unusual acting upon.

I am very new to this assignment of EuNC rectorship, and the job is already changing! The EuNC that I have worked for in various capacities prior to Covid-19 is not the same as during Covid-19. We are counting our bread and fish, and we are coming back and reporting about what we have.

“Send the crowds away.” Crisis is a time of miracles if there is a staying together. The miracle might not become obvious in what we can keep from the old; it may only come into form as we become the type of crowd fed by Jesus when there seemed to be ’not enough’. Miracles come at a sacrifice and cost: stay together!

Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.

Are we ready to stay together as groups within the Jesus’ group, to become more interdependent, learn new ways of connectedness, partnerships, and the joy of sharing an extraordinary experience together? Are we ready to give up more than just the old ways of doing things but also the old ways of handling our little kingdoms within the Kingdom? This is not the time of sending the people away who need to be fed and taught; it is the time of staying together and rearranging ourselves so that all groups can be fed and taught!
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.

How impressive, how creative, how innovative! Crisis is a time of miracles – at a cost! Breaking the little and the few that we have into pieces, and further even more pieces, so that everyone can eat at the table. It seems to be so foolish and counter-productive, yet it works.

Is the Covid-19 pandemic only a health crisis? Or, is it also scary because it uncovers a lot of our human weaknesses. I pray it will not be an education crisis or lead to a theological education crisis, for that matter. As we mourn the temporary, and some more permanent losses, we also celebrate some of the opportunities and benefits. Mourning and celebrating at the same time is very draining.

We have had a pre-taste of this. Prior to the pandemic-generated education changes, the EuNC community had already had a Pan-European/Asian education challenge that impacted our education zone quite deeply. A few years ago, the school came to a crossroad of having to decide how the mission of the school is best carried out to serve the church. It was not an easy process. My deepest respect goes to the school and church leaders involved in such a challenging and burdensome decision and journey. There was deep grieving and mourning over what the church might lose, and there was also celebration of new opportunities and gains for the sake of what EuNC and the church might become. It must have felt a bit similar to what all of us are experiencing now: colleagues were separated, they felt close in heart but worked apart; student communities had to be formed at great distance, and meetings had to be carried out via videoconferencing. The euphoria of more students being able to access and afford education, and more teachers being able to contribute, was palpable. We had to move close to the local church, we had to keep the quality of the education, while bringing the content closer to the needs of the church, to serve those that are to serve the church. We had to give up something that was for only some so that we would gain something for many. It has become truly accessible to all and financially affordable. Mourning, we were celebrating!

I know this experience is bigger, global, harder and in its impact it might go further, yet, for EuNC it feels like the world is living through our déjá vu. Before celebrating—when it comes—before starting to count the baskets, we need to ask the questions: who are losing right now, who are being left out or behind, who are we sending away from the table? How can we break the little that some in our denomination (and in Nazarene higher education) have into more pieces so that all can have a taste of the miracle Christ has for us? I believe only those who are willing to do that will be able to join in the celebration of counting the baskets. Let us all stay, be fed and taught by Jesus, as his disciples. Such theological higher education, I am passionate about.

Rector Mária Gusztinné Tulipán

Published May 2020, EuNC in Touch