I remember as a child being friends with a boy named Chris. Chris came from a family of 11 children. I knew that Chris and his family were not wealthy. As I remember, Chris’s dad worked as a janitor, an important profession but not one that paid a lot of money. One day, Chris invited me over to dinner. I remember sitting at a very large table with lots of children and having a good time. What I most remember that evening is that we ate sloppy joes on a hamburger bun. Each child was given one sloppy joe. I also remember that there was one extra sloppy joe left and it was offered to me. I think even to this day how others in the family probably needed the last sloppy joe more than I did but I thought it was such a generous gift to give it to me, their guest. A small gesture but very meaningful.
Many years later, Jan and I went to Honduras to visit an Episcopal boarding school in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. While we were there our group hosted a few selected students for a meal out on the town. We went to McDonald’s. One of the students sat across from us. After eating a few bites of his sandwich, he wrapped it back in the package and put it to the side. I asked him why he wasn’t eating the rest and he said that he was saving it for his brother who was not able to come on our trip. He was so thoughtful to give a part of his lunch to his brother. It was a small gesture but I remember it even today.
In the gospel from John we hear the story of the feeding of the five thousand. You and I have heard this story many times. It is one of the few gospel stories that I remember reading in church when I was a child. This story is the only miracle performed by Jesus that is found in all four gospels. It must have been one of the most important stories told by the followers of Jesus. I am sure it was told in every oral tradition passed down by his followers.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand speaks about the blessings that Jesus heaped upon the people who came to him. He had compassion for all. It is a sign of how God cares for us. We know that God is all powerful. We know that the miraculous intervention of God is not only possible, but it is something that the people of that time expected. They were not surprised. It is similar to the passage from 2 Kings when Elisha was able to feed so many with the help of God.
It is a good day to offer praise to God. Psalm 145 offers a series of testimonies about the wonders of God and all that God does for us. The Lord is faithful, The Lord is righteous and loving, The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. The Psalm, 2 Kings, and the gospel are both about the glory of God. Since we all know this story so well, let’s consider some other messages beyond just the glory of God. How does Jesus use our gifts? Let’s focus on the young boy and consider how the boy’s gift of two fish and five loaves of bread made everything else possible. What expectations did this day create for the people there and how might we understand their reaction?
In the lesson, Jesus asked a question for which he already had the answer, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” I think Jesus wanted the apostles to feel the responsibility for caring for all the followers of Jesus. Andrew tried to help, there is a boy with some food. It is almost as if Andrew is reaching out for an answer to Jesus. I hear Andrew saying, “We only have a little, will it help?” The magic of this miracle is that with only a little, Jesus performed miracles. The young boy gave all that he had to Jesus. Did he wonder if he would get any food for himself? He did it willingly. and Jesus did so much with what Andrew found and the boy gave,
Pope Francis offered these thoughts about miracles a couple of years ago. “What do you think God is more likely to do, miraculously drop food where there is starvation or inspire people to help their neighbors solve their problems? I like to think that both are possible. But if you choose the latter, how can we help (through the Holy Spirit) in all the places that we touch: our parks, our cities, our church, and more? Let us give what we can. We may think it is not much. Let us give anyway. Perhaps our gift will be matched by another. Maybe our gift will encourage another to give. Together our gift is a lot. God will do great things with our gifts.
We know that the need for food is significant. The United Food Bank has posted on its website that there are 470,000 hungry children. That may be the number of hungry children in the area that the United Food Bank serves. They also post that they hand out 75,000 meals per day. So many in this congregation have been generous when it comes to feeding the hungry. Thank you.
Let’s take a few minutes to think about how the people responded to the compassion of Jesus and his feeding of so many. They were amazed by what Jesus had done, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus was there for them when they needed it. But they wanted more than a prophet, didn’t they. The crowd wanted to make him king we are told. So much did they want Jesus to be their king that Jesus had to go and hide, to stay away from everyone. We know that Jesus didn’t come to be the king of any country on earth. He is the king of heaven. Jesus never fit into the perfect mold that people wanted him to be and we should be careful not to put him into our mold either.
Jesus does so much for us. I think of a quote from the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis. Listen to what the lion Aslan does for the people Narnia. “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” So, Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He comforts us, strengthens us, heals us and gives us peace.
As I said let’s not make Jesus into something he is not nor should we want Jesus to be something just because it makes us more comfortable. Jesus did not come to fix every problem we have in the world. Jesus is about bringing us closer to God. Jesus is about expecting us to step away from sin and step to God. Jesus is about expecting us to love our neighbors. He is about expecting us to forgive people. He is about asking us to visit the sick, those in prison and taking care of the needy. One of the commentators I read this week pointed out that the boy brought loaves of barley. Barley rather than wheat was thought to be a food for the poor. Jesus was feeding everyone but he had a special place for the poor. You see, Jesus doesn’t make our lives easy.
I am reminded of another note that C. S. Lewis wrote about Aslan, the lion in the Narnia series. “He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” Jesus didn’t do everything the way people expected him to do. He spoke about the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Our Presiding Bishop is fond of talking about how Jesus turned the world upside down. He encourages us to do the same. I like this thought from Bishop Curry, “Our mission is not only to change the world, but to share in God’s work of turning the world upside down, transforming and transfiguring it from the nightmare it can be into the dream God destines it to be.”
Today’s gospel is a beautiful story of the miraculous power of Jesus. It is a reminder that God cares for us and loves us. What might this message be saying to you? It may be asking you to think about how you love your neighbor. I hope you also remember that Jesus doesn’t always fit in to the box that we wish him to be in. He may give us comfort, but he also challenges us to be something much bigger. He encourages us to reach and to dream big and to help him make this a world where God lives in all people. Amen.