Feeding the 5000 with the help of a child

Posted on behalf of Reverend Canon Cynthia Botha

Date of sermon: 26 July 2015 (9th Sunday after Pentecost)

Where: St Francis

There are two important stories in the gospel for today –you will see we are reading from the gospel of John – the feeding of the 5000 and immediately following that – Jesus walking on the water.  What is the gospel writer trying to tell us about Jesus?  Last week Tim commented on the fact that the gospel from Mark was in two sections which left out the middle bit – which was Mark’s telling of this story.  Well we have it today in John – and for the next two weeks will be looking at Jesus as the Bread of Life – a very important sign in John’s gospel.

The gospel last week emphasised Jesus as the healer and the danger was that people would accept Jesus and want to follow him because of the miracles that he performed – for the number of people he healed – and because he was able to drive out the demons from people.  John in his gospel says that Jesus is much more than a miracle worker – and so he has 7 signs which tell who Jesus is – he is the bread of life and he is Lord of Creation – he walks on the water to the disciples.

When we were talking about this at our staff meeting – we recalled hearing this story at Sunday School – it was always an impressive story – did you also draw the 5 barley loves and two fish?  There are two sentences in the story that stood out for me in this familiar story.

Firstly Andrew says – there is a boy here who has five barley loves and two fish.  There is a boy here – there is a child in their midst!   We don’t often hear about children in the stories and it is interesting to hear that a child also followed Jesus and then becomes central to the story – it is so easy to over look this.  A number of years ago one of our priests wrote a book called ‘the child in our midst’ and lamented the fact that the church often overlooked the place of children in the church.  People used to say children must be seen and not heard but we have come to realise how important it is to listen to children and be a part of their lives.  Yvette often says she is intrigued by some of the reflections of the children in the youth.  So I wondered what would be the consequences of our understanding of who Jesus is – if we allowed our reflection to be informed by the child in our midst?

John’s gospel does not have a story of the institution of the Eucharist and scholars of the gospel say that this is the story that tells us about the Eucharist – and we are invited to see it from a child’s perspective.   In the discussion with the disciples which follows this event – Jesus declares himself as the bread of life.   We will see that for John – everything comes together – past and future meet in the sharing of this meal – the manna of the dessert is remembered and the future banquet when all will eat at the Lord’s table is referred to – and it all starts with this story of the child in their midst.   It is interesting that nothing happens until the child is acknowledged – we hear of Philip trying to calculate how much money it would take to feed such a crowd – more than two hundred silver coins – or six months wages!

The sign happens when the child is acknowledged and the bread and fish is given, is taken and received and it then becomes bread for all – food for all who are hungry.  We speculated about his mum sending him out that day and making sure that he would have something to eat – packing him a lunch – and that simple meal becomes bread for all and a sign of who Jesus is.

Bread and wine and fish – everyday food resources were hallowed because they were gifts from God.  The Jewish law required the people to say a pray of thanksgiving every time they ate.  Bread was an essential basic food.   I read with interest that it was the poor who ate barley loaves – the ones the boy offered.  It was the food of the poor – the rich ate bread made from wheat.  Very significant that – it is the food of the poor that becomes the life giving bread.   Jesus takes it and gives thanks to God for it and then gives the food to the people.  When everyone is satisfied – nothing is lost – the crumbs are gathered – 12 baskets full.  Jesus says – gather the pieces left over – let us not waste any.

Let us not waste any… the 2nd sentence –   a very important lesson one we could do well to practise today.  There is so much waste in the world – someone said no one needs to die because they were starving and yet everyday people die because they do not have anything to eat.  For most of us – hunger has only ever been fleeting, maybe what we experience on the day we fast – and we don’t really know what it is like to be hungry.

There is confusion here too with hunger and power.  Jesus is happy to satisfy the hunger of the crowd by offering them the bread of the poor – but he is not happy to satisfy their hunger for power by agreeing to become their king.   That is not the kind of leader he wants to be – the hunger of domination one over the other.  He is the bread that is offered – the sign of God’s ultimate reign when all will be fed.  All the examples around him of kingship and of rulers were of people with destructive power – taking from the poor, accumulating wealth at the expense of the poor.

Sounds very familiar in SA today.  I listen to 702 radio some mornings and every time a story is told of some community suffering because of lack of funds – they make reference to the millions spent on Nkandla – so much more could have been done for those in need.  We are all called upon to change our priorities – including the priorities of our nation when it spends more on a home for the president than it does on starving children.  The power that dominates with force – steals from the hungry multitudes – in saying no to the crowd – Jesus is giving us a model of Christian leadership – that is very different to secular leadership and the use of power.  Jesus is able to offer the bread of life to all who need it.  The challenge is for us to follow his example – and the example of the little boy – when we share the little that we have – we will discover how much we have left over.  We only discover that truth by doing it.

That is the power of the Eucharist – all who come are given the food of God for the people of God.  The Eucharist is at the very heart of Anglican life and we are encouraged to take part as often as we can.  It serves as a very clear reminder that sharing food was central to Jesus ministry – we read of him having a meal with many different people, with the Pharisees, or the tax collectors, in the home of Peter, Martha and Mary, etc.  Jesus used those opportunities to teach and speak about the poor and about Gods love and care for all his people.   Jesus used bread as a symbol of this faith – his body broken – the bread broken giving life to all who partake of it.  Our prayer today is that the Eucharist will enable us to do on earth what is done in heaven, where the hungry are welcomed and fed, the leftovers are gathered together and nothing is wasted.

An unknown author has a simple poem in praise of bread – an appreciation of the food of life which is quite lovely  – I quote it…

Be gentle when you touch bread
Let it not lie – uncared for, unwanted
So often bread is taken for granted
There is much beauty in bread
Beauty of sun and soil, beauty of patient toil
Winds and rain have caressed it
Christ often blessed it
Be gentle when you touch bread.

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