Sermon for 9th Sunday after Trinity, 29 July 2018
This sermon was ony read at the 8am Service.
This follows the Gospel of John 6:1-21
In the miracle we just heard equality is to the fore.
Everyone had to sit on the ground. No segregation according to race or gender or position in society. All were equally hungry – all were equally dependant on Jesus at that instant.
This is the only miracle before the resurrection that is mentioned in all four gospels – its that important.
John 6 is a long discourse by Jesus – it explains how he is the Bread of life – it explains how he nourishes us. The feeding of the 5000 kicks this off.
It was late, and the people were hungry. In ancient times the north-east shore of the Sea of Galilee was known as 'the desert'. It was a barren area where little was able to grow. Men, women and children, all needing to be fed from five loaves and two fish.
There have been lots of theories over the years that have attempted to explain this miracle. Some have claimed that the crowds were whipped into a frenzy of religious fervour on hearing Jesus speak, and this suppressed their appetites. Personally I find religion makes me hungry – especially at around midday on a Sunday!
Others have speculated that the mood of harmony and selflessness spread by Jesus' teaching might have inspired the crowd to offer up their own private supplies of food and share them with each other. There we have it - the first bring and share. But this can’t possibly have been true because there is no mention at all of mini sausage rolls or quiche.
The key thing in this story is the clear understanding of the crowd that a miracle had taken place. They were convinced that with so little to work with Jesus had fed everyone, and left them all satisfied. Why else would John record that the crowds were determined to take him by force and make him king? It would have been rather like the speaker being dragged to his or her chair in the House of Commons – now it is symbolic but in the past it was necessary because no-one wanted the job!
What the crowd witnessed made a huge impact on them, but this was as much from the symbolic message as from the multiplication of the bread and fish.
1. The Miracle points back
Back to Elisha who performed a similar feat but on a much smaller scale many years before. Elisha was and is revered as a holy man and miracle worker.
Also harks back to Moses who was advised to 'select capable men from all the people who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens'. Jesus, as Mark and Luke’s gospels tell us, gets them to sit down in the same sized groups.
And in the Sinai desert, Moses presided over another miraculous multiplication of food. In the mornings the ground was covered with manna - the bread of heaven - like a fall of snow. In the evenings, the skies above the camp were alive with quail. Loaves and fishes, manna and quail. The menu may have been different, but the parallels would not have been lost on a first century crowd. Jesus is identified with the revered Moses. “Something big is happening here” the people think.
2. But it also points forward too.
The point of the story is to tell us that Jesus has done something extraordinary, something that goes beyond the realm of nature. They could never have fed themselves – they weren’t expecting a picnic. They stayed out much longer than they expected because Jesus was teaching them and the teaching gripped them.
The important point here is that instead of relying on ourselves, we need to rely on Jesus. We can’t be self reliant. The feeding of the 5000 is not about you and me and our capacity to share, it's all about Jesus. And about him making himself present in the meal we are about to celebrate. It points towards the mystery of the Eucharist.
If Jesus were simply telling us to share, then he would essentially be a self-help guru who tells us: “Go ahead and do it, you have what it takes.”
But the beauty of the Eucharist is that Jesus breaks into our world and into our emptiness just as he did with the 5000. This means that if we are self-satisfied, in control of our lives, if everything is going well and we don’t need the help of anyone, then the Eucharist is not for us.
But if we are broken and empty (like those 5000 all those years ago) with nowhere else to turn, if we are utterly in need and realise our dependence on God, then the Eucharist is for us.
The point I think of the feeding of the 5000 is that it is beyond the normal rules of nature - just as this Eucharistic meal we share is beyond the normal realms of nature. The feeding of the 5000 reminds us that Jesus asks us to live a supernatural life, one that goes beyond what is naturally possible, and for this we need the Eucharist.
The wonder of the Eucharist is that Jesus truly transforms bread and wine into himself - whether you view that in a spiritual sense or a physical sense. And the amazing, scarcely believable, news is that if he can do that to the bread and wine, and to the loaves and fishes, then he can also transform you and me.
Jesus takes each one of us, and like bread and fish, blesses us filling us with his very self each time we encounter him through this service at the altar and then shares us.
Ordinary people filled with the extraordinary life of God, shared with the world.
The feeding of the 5000 seems a long way away but it is actually very close – it happens to each one of us each time we respond to God with open hearts. And then, if we are willing, having filled us he uses us to show his love to those around us.
Father Matthew BUCHAN