2 Kings 7:42-44 Psalm 145: 10-19 Ephesians 3:14-21 John 6:1-21
I remember as a child thinking of the miracles Jesus performed as “proof” he was the incarnate God, God in the flesh. After all, only God could take fives loaves of bread and two fish, feed a crowd of five thousand, and have food left over. I was obviously unaware of the other stories in the Bible of people who performed the same miracle. Elisha, in our reading from 2nd Kings, may not feed five thousand with so little food, but he does feed hundreds with only twenty loafs of bread and a bag of corn. He, too, has food left over.
Thus, the proof of who Jesus is, is not found in the miracles he performed. It is found in our experience of his love shared with those who surrounded him then, who later deserted him, who crucified him, and those who have met the resurrected Christ. The proof of who Jesus is, can be found in the person sitting next to you, the person’s whose life has been transformed by the love of God.
What then, do we make of the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand? First, I think it is important to see the connection between Jesus and the great prophets of old. For the people of Israel, they see this as a sign that he is the Messiah and they wanted to make him their king. They fully believed that the God of Israel, as they called God, was their God and would raise up for them a king who would lead a revolution. Like Moses who lead them out of slavery in Egypt, they were waiting for a King who would free them from the oppressive Roman occupation of the Promised Land – their land.
They saw this miracle as a sign that Jesus was the one. After the people begin talking about Jesus as “the One,” we are told, “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Jesus was, indeed, the one the people had been waiting for, just not what they expected. Jesus did not come to free them from Roman oppression, he came to free them to fee all of us from sin.
The sin that enslaved the people of God then, and enslaves us today, is the sin of self-centeredness. Whenever we think we are the one truth faith, whenever we think we deserve more than others, we are guilty of building a wall between us and God, between us and others. It is the sin of idolatry making our possessions more important than God and others.
John’s telling of this miracle contains something else which is lost in translation. Note that Jesus has the people sit down before he feeds them, and, “there was a great deal of grass in the place.” In the Greek, it says they are instructed them to “recline” – or, put another way, “lay down in green pastures.” Just as the miracle of taking so little and feeding so many connects Jesus with the great prophets of old, this telling of the story connects Jesus with the shepherd in Psalm 23 who leads his flock, the 5000, through the valley of the shadow of death and makes them lie down in green pastures. And, as in verse 5 of the psalm says, “he spreads a table before me [them] in the presence of those who trouble me.” [The Romans who are oppressing the people of Isral].
Nothing captures our attention quite like a miracle. But let us not overlook the source of the food that is used to feed the multitudes. In 2nd Kings, it is man who comes bringing, we are told, “food from the first fruits to the man of God.” Any time we hear that of an offering is from the first fruits, it tells us that it is being given in thanksgiving and with faith.
Like I said a couple of Sunday’s ago, I have found that when the first check I write after I get paid is to the church, I don’t miss the money. If I start paying my bills first, I worry that I won’t have enough. When I give in appreciation for what I have received, I have faith that I have what I need – and I do. Giving from the first fruits, means this farmer is both thankful to God for his harvest, and that he has faith the remainder of his harvest will be enough for him to make it through the winter.
In the gospel, it is a child’s offering that is shared and used to feed the people gathered. This telling of the story says what the child has with him. Philip then says, “But what is that among so many people?” Jesus knows. God knows. What we give may not seem like it will make a difference, but it does. It makes a different to us – it frees us from making our possessions more important than the needs of others. And, it does more than just that. Listen to what is written in the final verse in the prayer included in today’s letter to the Ephesians:
Now to him [meaning God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
God can work miracles with whatever we have to offer, because together with others who are part of this body of Christ, we can make a difference – we can accomplish more than we can ask or imagine.
Over the next week you will be receiving information about a couple of the challenges St. Paul’s is facing. Doing what needs to be done will only be achieved if we each do what we can to help. As you learn more, I ask that you keep these lessons in mind. By giving with faith and sharing what we have, we will be able to do the work that needs to be done to preserve what has been entrusted to us.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give thanks to you for the bounty you have given to us, that you have entrusted to our care. We thank you for this, our church family, and the love and support we share with one another, and in this community. Help us, we pray, to open our hearts that your power might be at work in our lives helping us to accomplish more than we imagine. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.