Feeding 5000 People – July 29, 2018
May God’s word only be spoken and heard here, in the name of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.
This week’s Gospel reading piggybacks on last week’s lectionary text. Except that we didn’t read it here; we instead celebrated St. Mary Magdalene. Last Sunday Mark’s Gospel told that the crowds were following Jesus everywhere, and “they had no leisure even to eat.” Jesus and the disciples were working long days to minister to all kinds of people. He and his friends kept being followed by people seeking healing and teaching. Jesus had compassion for them. Today we read that Jesus, in his compassion, wants to figure out how to feed the thousands of people.
The feeding miracle we read today obviously meant a lot to the compilers of the Gospels because it is recounted in all four, and Matthew and Mark also include a similar story about feeding 4000. Today, we hear John’s version.
In all six accounts, there are leftovers aplenty. It speaks of God’s provision, of God’s care and concern for all of God’s people, of God’s abundance and generosity, important themes for the early church and us as well.
John’s Gospel in its entirety is trying to show us who Jesus is. That Jesus is God Incarnate, the Word made Flesh, as he states in the opening chapter. And his version of this feeding story is part of that plan. He’s trying to show us Jesus as God, plain and simple. That is, the real importance of Jesus’ activity isn’t simply to feed those who are hungry but to reveal something vital about Jesus and, in turn, about God. He’s telling us Jesus can take insignificant things and make something important of them. Hel’s telling us that Jesus can show us abundant resources and comfort our fears.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes frequently about the contrast between the biblical theology of abundance and the economic theology of scarcity. Brueggemann asserts correctly, I believe, that there is always enough. Faith and the necessities of life are not zero-sum games. There will be more than sufficient whether we’re talking about faith, food or resources.
Jesus operates within the reality of abundance and unmasks the illusion of scarcity. With an abundance mentality, we say that there is enough for everyone—food, love, justice, knowledge . . . everything—if we would but acknowledge and share generously, and wisely. For example, around the world and very close to home, hunger persists, for a number of reasons. And none of that is illusory or unreal, to be sure. Yet God’s creation is one of abundance; therefore, there is plenty to give and to share. It seems so simple but we make it so difficult.
The miracle is not that everyone shared. The miracle is that from obvious scarcity more than enough came into being when Jesus blessed what was obviously insufficient. Jesus was abundantly hospitable. The image of bread and feeding are signs pointing to the whole of life that is given and sustained by God’s gracious hand.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 addresses our fears of scarcity and want. The bottom line of the miracle is that there is always enough. This story is about bread, but it is more than about food. Bread stands for what is essential for life. All of life is given and sustained by God. In the words of Psalm 100, “it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves.” All that we are and all that we have comes from God. And in God’s hands, miracles happen. God’s providence is profligate; there are always leftovers.
We live in a culture that subscribes to the polar opposite view of Jesus’ way of thinking. We’re always told there will never be enough, that we always need more, be it money, possessions or “stuff.” And most of us believe it. We buy more than we need, we hoard, and we obsess about keeping the resources we have for ourselves. We depend on our own resources to take care of ourselves and our families.
We, one-fifth of the world’s population, consume nearly four-fifths of its food and associated resources to produce and deliver that food. That leads to the tragic conclusion that when we act on a mentality of scarcity through the prerogative of privilege and acquisitiveness, scarcity indeed becomes a reality.
My own confession : Every year I go peach picking at Silverman’s. I always pick more than I need, certainly more than two of us can use. Sure, I make pies, we eat some and I freeze some, but no matter what spin I put on it, it’s my fear of there not being enough. PS – I still have peaches in my freezer from last year!
In the Wednesday Race and Social Justice group we have just finished reading a book by the Rev. William J. Barber, The Third Reconstruction. In it he chronicles the building of a moral movement for social justice in North Carolina. It’s a compelling and hopeful book, and I commend it to you. The piece I want to flag from the book is Rev. Barber’s reliance on God, his willingness to trust God’s generosity and providence. To look to Scripture for answers. I realized I mostly trust myself, and the people around me.
Rev. Barber is an intelligent, well-educated pastor who is faithful and believing. He writes, “History showed me that what the Bible says is true: when we all get together, something powerful can happen.” He reads Scripture and believes that as God worked with the prophets, so God will work with us in our struggles and our efforts to work for justice. He reads Scripture and understands that there is enough for everyone, if we work with and not against one another. “When the Spirit moved and brought us together as a community, we saw how God can change the world that is into the world that ought to be.”’ His faithfulness is personally challenging to me. He lives and believes that God loves, cares for and provides for all people. Rev. Barber shows me I have some trust-growing to do.
Today’s Gospel tells us some important things about God.
It tells us that God loves everyone and does not want us or any of God’s children to be hungry and that God wants more than just the bare essentials but rather abundance; it tells us that God loves the act of sharing with one another and that God never hesitates to use the love, spontaneity and generosity of a child to teach a lot of adults a big lesson; it tells us that God exists in ordinary things, like bread and fish; and it sets the stage for telling us that in these ordinary things eventually, like bread and wine, God will remind all who want to know that Christ is the bearer of bread that lasts forever, of food that will never run out; and, it tells us that God is with us in all kinds of weather, stormy as well as clear, that when we are scared to death like these disciples so often were God will stand with us in the midst of our fear.
The meal Jesus gave them that day—the meal he sets before us this morning—has a much deeper dimension than just the satisfying of our hunger. It is an invitation to bring to him our neediness in all the forms that it may take, especially those parts of ourselves we believe may never be of value to anyone else—just like those five loaves and two fish which of themselves were inadequate but when blessed by Jesus were enough to feed people with abundance.