a Homily for Proper 12B
Text: John 6:1-21
Focus on the Feeding
With the Feeding of the Five Thousand, we get one of the most recognizable stories of Jesus in the Bible. To many of us, this is quintessential Jesus. He feeds people. He performs a miracle. He instructs the disciples. He transforms how people are able to see the Almighty. It is iconic. Put up against the other iconic images of Jesus: Baptism, Good Shepherd, Transfiguration, Triumphal Entry, Crucifixion, etc.: this stands near the top.
What does that to us, do you think?
Is it the mystery? The “how’d he do that?”
Is it the majesty of the event? That it happened with five thousand people?
Is it the surprise? Turning five loaves and 2 fish into a feast?
Is it the generosity? That so many were given so much from so little?
Whatever the cause, this iconic message of GOD’s power in Jesus sticks with us. The same can’t be said for the second half of the story. The story of how the disciples went on ahead without Jesus, how Jesus avoided the grip of the crowd looking to crown Him king, how the storm and the walking on water make the disciples fearful. How Jesus hops in the boat and suddenly they reach the shore. For some reason, this part of the story is harder to stick with. Perhaps it sounds too much like other moments of surprising power.
Mark’s version of the story concludes with the daunting line:
And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
I wonder if the reason we focus on the feeding and not on the walking on water is because we don’t understand about the loaves.
On Friday Night, Rose and I ate at this little restaurant in Gladwin. We had the best fried whitefish we had ever had. Our plates were stuffed with two big pieces of fish, at least two handfuls of french fries, and bowl of green beans. The meal also began with a house salad and a roll. We were so stuffed! After eating our salads, we had no hope to finish the food off. We were sunk. Nevertheless, we tried. And our stomachs were over-filled. It was uncomfortable. But it seemed worth it.
From GOD giving the Hebrews manna while wandering in the desert to Jesus feeding these thousands of people, GOD’s focus is on enough. They eat enough. Not sufficient, right? Not the minimum necessary. They eat their fill. They eat enough. And yet too often, we are confused by this. Particularly in our realm of abundance. We eat, not until we are filled, but until we are overfull. And I think there is a difference.
More to the point is that what they are given is bread. In Jesus’s world, bread is your food. Bread is the difference between life and death. Bread gives life. Jesus teaching us about our daily bread, that each of us must have our daily bread, He is making a truly troubling statement. All of us must survive. All must be fed. All must have a meal on our table every day. And not scraps or the trimmings. Some good, fresh bread. It seems as if we do not understand about the bread.
Come to the Table
How this story fits into the wider scope of this gospel is much more than a magic trick, as if this is one more proof of how awesome Jesus is. It is a profound testimony to faith. Faith in GOD’s abundance in a world of scarcity.
The people following Jesus are most interested in the miracles. They have seen great feats of power. They have watched demons get banished, the sick have been healed. They have witnessed a powerful servant who represents to them something more than prophet. But what? They aren’t willing to face the truth.
The disciples are similarly stuck on the tangible issues: how can we get these people to go home and eat dinner with their families, how much will it cost to feed all of them, how might we find food at Jesus’s request, how might we fashion a dinner out of so little? And what Jesus provides isn’t tangibles, but something more. His power exists outside of the tangible world. Where 5 loaves and 2 fish not only feed 5,000 people, but from the abundance, 12 baskets of leftovers are collected. This doesn’t happen in a land of scarcity. This can only happen in a world of abundance.
The disciples leave that world of abundance when they hop in the boat and leave Jesus up the mountain. The storm rages, hope seems to be lost. Last time, they were upset at Jesus for sleeping in the back of the boat, but now? They left him behind! And as he approaches the boat, He announces who He is. He says “I AM, do not be afraid!” He bears the power of GOD, the great I AM. And as he comes to them, they want Him in the boat. Then the chaos ends.
Wanting Jesus In Our Boat
At St. Paul’s it is far too easy to be like the disciples who make two big mistakes: they are fixated on their land of scarcity and they hop in the boat without Jesus. Looking at the Michigan economy, we certainly appear to live in the land of scarcity. Reading our financial reports, we certainly appear to live in the land of scarcity. Trying to put together a budget for next year, using last years numbers and only adjusting for inflation, we certainly appear to live in the land of scarcity. But Jesus brought the disciples to this spot to witness a break from that reality: a glimpse of not another world that lives far away, but a world that is so very near, we could touch it if we wanted. A world of such abundance that even the tiniest mustard seed could grow into a remarkable bush, and a boy’s grocery run suddenly feeds 5,000 people following Jesus plus all of the people they will meet. We aren’t to fixate on the land of scarcity but invest in the world of abundance.
The other mistake we can make is that we forget Jesus is up that mountain. We take off from the shore, certain Jesus has gone on ahead of us or that He’ll meet up with us later. It is a strange moment in the text, really. But there is something to it. Something to that idea that we move ahead without Jesus, without the One Whom We Follow. Perhaps our storms are so big and scary because they are created by Jesus’s absence, or by our failure to allow Him to participate in our plans. Maybe we take off without Him.
This morning we worship. We worship God in praise and prayer. We will gather around an abundant Table, sharing in the Common Meal. Then we will gather out in the Fellowship Hall for our Semi-Annual Meeting. May we learn from the mistakes of the disciples. May we see the abundance and know GOD’s work is enough. May we want Jesus in the boat with us. And may we be filled with bread; the very substance of life.