Father Nicholas Lang
The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
The Jerusalem Gazette splashed the headline and story all over the front page: Miracle Feeding by local Rabbi Astonishes Thousands. Social Media was all a buzz: Hashtag#BreadMiracle. The paparazzi began stalking Jesus and his twelve friends. It was an unbelievable phenomenon: well over five thousand hungry people eating off five loaves of bread and two fish—with abundant leftovers. Amazing!
Was this “fake news?” Did it really happen--just the way John tells the story? Or, as some scholars have suggested, were the crowds so moved by the boy giving up all he had—his five loaves and two fish—that either guilt or generous hearts led them to pull out the food they had stowed away in their lunch boxes and dropped it into the baskets as they were passed?
It’s an interesting perspective. We might find it attractive because most of us never see miracles like this nor do we meet people who can walk on water as Jesus does in the second part of this Gospel story. Are we guilty of having no faith if we wonder about all this or try to explain it by some natural scientific explanation? Are we allowed to question at all?
Maybe, instead of wrestling with how this feeding of the five thousand happened, if it really was a miracle, or if the miracle was revealed in the generosity of the crowd in feeding one another, maybe we should focus on what God is saying to us through this story.
We might start by asking why Jesus used these five loaves of bread and two fish to feed this big crowd. Do any of you recall the comedy series Bewitched? Samantha would have twitched her nose and made a turkey dinner with all the trimmings appear. Why didn’t Jesus just make lots of food materialize out of thin air? He didn’t. He took this tiny offering of food from this little kid—a drop in the basket considering the number of hungry mouths he expects to feed.
It says something that Jesus would choose a young boy and a puny amount of bread and fish to try to feed the crowd. Remember that women and children were considered second class citizens and were not even counted as part of that multitude. In fact, there were many more than five thousand because only male adults would have been counted. Jesus choses a little unimportant kid to do God’s work that day.
Does this story have less to do with the power Jesus has to create an abundance of food out of little more than scraps and more to do with the reality that God can take the most insignificant things we may have—even our human imperfections — and use them for the good of others? That when we think we have almost nothing to give, God sees things differently?
Isn’t that the way God works? God seems to favor using what the world might consider worthless and weak or inadequate to do great things. God used barren old Sarah to give birth to Isaac and a generation that followed. Moses was a murderer yet God used him to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery. Jesus was a poor carpenter—a refugee from Nazareth but God used him to be the Messiah and savior of the world.
A Lutheran pastor was invited to address that denomination’s national youth gathering. Parents and even clergy had concerns about her because she was a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser who had also been arrested once for theft and prostitution. When she came to the podium, she began her remarks by responding to these concerns.
“Those of you who are apprehensive about my being asked to address our teens are absolutely right. Somebody with my past should not be invited to address this group. Yes, I’m in recovery and have been for years but I am a flawed person. I should not be allowed to stand here today, but you know what? That’s the God we’re dealing with.”
We’ve been raised in a world that equates wealth, success, top grades, efficiency, strength, youth and good looks, with having the right stuff, with popularity and status. None of these things are inherently bad and all of them are gifts from God. The irony is that the God we are dealing with often chooses to use our broken places. The God we’re dealing with says, “What do you have to offer?” We may be inclined to say, “I got nothing. Nothing worthwhile or significant.” And God replies, “Fantastic. I’ll take it. I can work with that.