Mark 6:30-44; John 6:35
Feeding the Five Thousand
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled, 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
When I was a kid, I was worried about being homeless, of not having enough. Our family was not super wealthy, but we always had enough. But, I still worried. I remember talking to mom as an 8 or 9 yer old about this…her response, you will never be homeless unless you decide to be. You have resources in abundance, not just monetary, but relational connections that will find you throughout your life. Lots of wisdom that that’s been proven for almost 55 years.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the focus is on abundance…especially when it seems like everyone is exhausted and can’t see the abundance. Jesus performing a miracle it seems where he fed the 5,000 from a few loaves of bread and fishes. There was so much food that they had leftovers. The Gospel narrative implies that folks had their fill, they were well fed.
At the beginning of this gospel narrative, we have the disciples coming to Jesus and sharing all that they had seen, heard, and done. They were exhausted, tired, in need of some sabbath and time away. We can relate can’t we? I know I can. These disciples were dealing with their issues, as well as the issues of those around them. 24/7. It was good work, sometimes energizing and amazing I’d imagine. So, Jesus says lets get out of here, head to a deserted place. Yet, so many folks followed them. They were tired, hungry…maybe even a bit “hangry”, cranky and complaining on empty stomachs. Jesus says to his disciples, send the folks away, they need to find food. He had compassion on them. In this context, the Greek translation for compassion is often one of deep feeling. Jesus felt their anguish in his bowels, it bodily moved him with love. There’s a mystery there. Jesus didn’t know all of them, yet, being both very human and very divine, incarnate, he felt for them.
I think we can relate to that. When we are doing the work of living in Christ, of being the body of Christ, we have compassion on others, as well as ourselves, don’t we? We see others suffering, and before we let fear or divisive voices take over, we “feel” for their plight. I know I do, and I know it takes work to not let my ego or the voices of others to drown out that compassion.
Jesus groans with compassion from his very bowels for the folks in this story.
That compassion moved Jesus to look for the positive. He did not look at the outward issues and throw his hangs up, he simply adapted and moved forward. What do we have? What can we provide? We don’t have much the disciples tell him, a few loaves and fishes.
Jesus then goes on to tell the disciples to organize folks, and then Jesus blesses the bread and the fishes and there’s more than enough for everyone. When they collect what’s left over, they have more than what they started with.
Friends, we know the parallel to where we are as a congregation. There is much to tell us today of where we are…we are tired, we look at our church and wonder how we can do anything, we are too old, we are too little, we do not have much, we need this or that before we can do anything, we need more young families, our congregation is going to close in 2 or 3 years, or 5…we need more of this, less of that, whatever the argument or the issue of the day is, we often go to a place of scarcity. And, that’s understandable. That’s our cultural default. And it leads us to be dependent on looking for a savior, a messiah, someone outside of ourselves to save us…we do that in our politics, in our religion, our business, and even in our families.
We so often forget, I know I do, that Jesus reminds us that we are the body of Christ. That God RESIDES in us, we are made of God DNA. Bread for the world. We have enough, and if we look closer, we see that we live in abundance and have gifts that we can offer the world around us.
It reminds me of how we, in the church, and in the non-profit world in general, often ask, what are our needs or even the needs of those around us? Sometimes those are good to identify, but there is a deeper question to ask, what are we aiming for? Who are we? What do we have already? I think those questions are exemplified in the feeding of the 5000. Jesus knows that folks need to be fed, but instead of asking how do we get to a place, he simply says, what do we have? What’s abundant? What are our assets, then he uses those assets to bless the people gathered.
Jesus goes on to say in our other passage this morning from the book of John, which took place right after the feeding of the 5000, that we should not work for food that spoils. Again, he’s saying that we can provide for needs of the moment, but we should look for something deeper, something more meaningful or even empowering. We should look for food that doesn’t spoil, that lasts forever and is eternal. And, remember, as we’ve mentioned before, the word eternal in the gospels has much more to do with quality than quantity. Jesus wants us to have big, meaningful, and full lives together with each other and with God.
Which, is what Jesus is driving his listeners towards. They keep on asking questions and go to the place of trying to connect Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 to Moses providing Manna from heaven. Moses’ Manna lasted for 40 years and helped the Jewish population stay alive physically, but the point of that is that it came from heaven. God provided through Moses. Jesus says this, says this is truth telling, God has given them, and us, the true bread from heaven, that gives life to the world, everyone.
They clamored for that kind of bread and asked where they could get it. Jesus then declares with a double imperative, which translates from the Greek “I am, I am the bread of life.” Whoever is willing to believe and to dare to grow and become the person that God created them to be, to receive the gift of relationship from God will never be thirsty.
Friends, this world needs this kind of bread. I used tell my cross country runners all of the time that there are good carbs and bad carbs. Bad carbs can fill you up but have no nutritional value other than making you a larger person, but good carbs give you energy and are building blocks for getting stronger, healthier.
Jesus is coming to us with the promise of Presence, of relationship. A promise that he will be with us, even in the darkness of our lives. He doesn’t promise some self-help technique, he simply gives us relationship.
Jesus is the bread of life, and that bread starts with yeast rising. That yeast has been planted in this world through Jesus’ coming to us, entering humanity, being one with us, while also being one with the Father and with the Spirit.
God’s Spirit is also moving in and through us like yeast in dough. We’re being molded and moved around, it’s sometimes a bit awkward, but that yeast is working its way through the dough and Christ is rising up within us and around us.
Friends, as we move forward in this stewardship season, into 2023 and the YEARS that follow, let’s remember the seed that God has planted in us, God’s very self, God’s Presence, that is growing, that is giving us ideas and new life, and is moving us towards being the body of Christ to the world around us and to each other.