A young preacher graduated from Bible College and was invited back to his home congregation to preach a sermon. He wanted to make a good impression. He did his best to prepare to preach to his home church. He wrote his sermon word for word and memorized it. He had a very dramatic beginning to the sermon.
He started by hitting the pulpit real hard and said, “Jesus took 5,000 fishes and 2,000 loaves and he fed 5 people!” He paused very dramatically and pointed his finger at the congregation and said, “Could you do that?” Everyone roared with laughter and he couldn’t imagine what was going on. At that point one man raised his hand. That set the young preacher off. He said, “Sir, you are guilty of blasphemy. How could you claim to do something that only our Lord could do?” This man stood up and began to explain to the young preacher about the big mistake that he had made.
The preacher, when he realized what he had done, was so humiliated that he couldn’t say another word. He sat down in utter confusion and disgrace. The home church was very loving, very kind, very forgiving and they all came around and put their arms around him and they
said, “Look, everyone makes mistakes. Forget about it. You work on this sermon and next Sunday try it again.” They finally convinced him.
The next Sunday after working on that sermon another entire week, he stood up in front of the congregation. This time he got all of his fact and figures straight, but he started out the very
same way. He hit the pulpit very dramatically and he said, “Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fishes and he fed 5,000 people. Could you do that?” The same man raised his hand. The preacher was really upset and he said, “Sir, how can you claim to do something like that?” The man said, “With the leftovers from your sermon last Sunday.”
The story of the loaves and fishes as read today is from marks Gospel yet it appears in all four gospels so it evidently had some significance. It is often read as a metaphor for community. The story itself is used to recall how Israel was many times protected and sustained by God. And it mirrors the Jewish expectation of an end of time banquet with God. Again when they are seated into groups of 50 or 100 these were prescriptions of early Christian community life.
Well, the gospel story for today is an old favorite story about Jesus and his disciples that was told over and over again. There are some old favorite stories which are told only one time in the gospels.... such as the story of the Good Samaritan, told only once; the story of the Prodigal Son, told only once; the story of the Sheep and the Goats, told only once. These are favorite, great stories but they are told only once in our Gospel.
But the story for today, about the five loaves and two fish, is not told merely once, not twice, not three times, but four times in its variations. It is the only Gospel miracle which is told in its fullness in all four Gospels.
Now, why is this story told over and over again? I believe it is because this story captures the truth, the essence of all the people involved; the essential truth about Jesus and the essential truth about the disciples and the essential truth about God.
So I would like to retell this story for you, but include elements from the other Gospel versions of the story, and then two more Bible stories that are connected. Let’s begin.
It was springtime in Israel. The rains of March and April had come and the land was now fresh and green. The brown hills had soaked up the spring rains and the flowers were blooming and the hills were green again.
It was Passover time in Israel. Passover was their great religious feast, like Easter is for us. That meant a holiday from school, and a holiday from work. That meant that people were taking trips, packing their donkeys and going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was a time of religious aliveness, of fasting and feasting and traveling.
It was popularity time for Jesus. Jesus had healed people of their diseases and his popularity was becoming enormous. He was like a new rock star, and thousands would gather to hear him preach just as thousands gather over in the Staple center to hear a rock concert and see a star in person.
We see disciples had just returned after being sent out in groups of two to preach and offer healing and expel demons across the country side. The disciple come back all excited that it really worked they were amazed and astounded and told Jesus of all that they had done.
But it was also tragedy time in Israel. According to the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist had just been beheaded. John, the Baptist, was the greatest moral force, the greatest spiritual force, the greatest prophet the land of Israel had experienced for four hundred years. He was the person that everyone looked to for moral and religious inspiration, and he was just be headed by King Herod. Everyone was stunned by this tragedy, by this enormous loss, including Jesus, who had been baptized by John.
And so it was grieving time in Israel, mourning time. People were stunned, and Jesus wanted to get away by himself to grieve, to pray, to remember. He wanted to get away to a lonely place and so he got into a boat to sail across Lake Galilee to a remote point, some four miles away, in order to get away from the massive crowds who were following him, to be alone and grieve the loss of John the Baptist.
To help us today, I want to use the geography of our area. Let’s imagine that Jesus got onto a bike here and rode it to Warner brother studios. That’s what happened in the story for today; Jesus took a four mile boat ride to a more remote, wilderness area, but the crowds could see from the shore where he was sailing to. And so the crowds followed along the shoreline, keeping an eye on his boat, and so when Jesus’ boat landed, many of the crowd had already arrived.
And what was Jesus’ reaction to the thousands who had shown up? Irritated? Angry? Imposed upon? No, he looked on the massive crowd with compassion, like they were sheep without a shepherd, like people who were in need of spiritual feeding for their spiritual hungers inside. And so he taught them and he healed them.
The day quickly passed. It got to be later, long into the day, and one of the disciples said: “Lord, the hour is late and the people don’t have any food and we are a long way from any villages. Maybe you should send them home now.” And Jesus said to Philip, according to John’s version of the story, “How are we going to buy bread, so that people can eat?” Jesus said this in orderto test Philip. Philip replied, “It would take more than two hundred denari, more than two hundred days of wages, and even that wouldn’t be enough bread to feed all these people.” Jesus said, “Look around the crowd and see what you can find.” Andrew found a young boy with five loaves of bread and two fish, and brought the boy, fish and bread to Jesus. Jesus invited everyone to be seated on the green grass. He had them sit in groups of 100 or fifty Jesus took the bread…looked up into heaven...gave thanks...broke it…gave it to his disciples...who gave it to the crowds. And they all ate and were all satisfied ...and… there were twelve baskets of bread left over. The number who ate was five thousand men, plus women and children.
That story was told over and over again in the gospels, but it continues. A few days later, Jesus was again out in the wilderness, again with a large crowd of four thousand men plus women and children, and the same story happens again. This time, seven loaves and a few fish were found. And once again, Jesus took the bread...looked up into heaven...gave thanks...broke it...gives it to his disciples...who shared it with everyone. And everyone ate and everyone was satisfied, and...there were seven baskets of bread left over after the feeding of the four thousand plus.
And then comes the final twist to the story, the final intrigue to this saga. Jesus and his disciples got into a boat and sailed back again across Lake Galilee. And as they arrived in the boat, the disciples began discussing quietly among themselves, out of earshot of Jesus, “Who brought the bread? Did anyone bring any bread for lunch?” And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, asked them: “Don’t you men get it? Don’t you understand? Are you so hard headed? Are you so hard hearted? You just saw the feeding of the five thousand and twelve baskets of bread which were left over. You just saw the feeding of the four thousand and seven baskets of bread which were left over. Don’t you get it about who I am? Don’t you get it about the abundance generosity of God? Don’t you get it that God will take care of you in your needs? Don’t you get it, even after you have personally seen these miracles?
And that story, about the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish, that story seems to capture the essence of all the people involved. That’s why it was told over and over again. This story captures the very essence of Jesus as the wondrous Son of God. It captures the very essence of God, in God’s abundant and extravagant generosity and grace, twelve and seven baskets full of bread left over. And it captures the very essence of us his disciples, who don’t get it, even after we have seen first hand, God’s miraculous work in our lives
But this is where it gets kind of sad for me…The real sadness of this situation arises not from the fact that there was so many people, not from the fact that these people were so hungry and weary, not from the fact that there was no food to feed them, but the real sadness arises from the fact that the disciples had no faith in their Lord as a source of supply. They looked at what they had, or in this case, what they did not have. They knew that it was inadequate, and so, their conclusion was that there was nothing that they could do.
They just got back from performing miracles of their own but now suddenly they are helpless. These guys just didn’t get it, at least not while Christ was among them.
Now I want us to note Jesus’ attitude and action. Jesus was moved with compassion because of the multitude’s condition. To the suggestion “Send them away,” Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.”In response to this came the disciples reply of inadequacy. So Jesus responded, “What do you have?” Their response was that they didn’t even know what they had; they had to go and find out that they had five loaves and two fish. The Gospel records state that they ate as much as they wanted, two of the Gospels state that they ate until they were gorged.
Now p[lease indulge me as I share a similar story of another miracle;
After months of hard work and years of saving, the day came for Reb and Jackay to open their own restaurant. All that was needed was the final health inspection and the issuing of their business permit. That was scheduled for first thing that morning; then "Our Place," as they called
their restaurant would be in business.
But that morning the winds and rains of Hurricane Hugo hit, unexpectedly making its way 200 miles inland to their North Carolina town. Trees were uprooted, power lines were down, homes and stores were destroyed. Reb and Jackay hurried to their restaurant. Everything was intact.
A deputy sheriff pulled up and told them that their restaurant, the fire station next door and a service station down the road were the only ones that electricity. Reb and Jackay called the health inspector to come immediately so they could open, but because of the power outage, he couldn’t get into his office to issue the permit. No permit, no business opening. With a refrigerator stocked with 300 pounds of bacon and beef and bushels of tomatoes, lettuce and bread, there was only one thing to do: give the food away.
They told the deputy, "Tell your coworkers and other emergency people you see that we’ll have free BLT’s and coffee for anybody who want to drop by." Soon firemen, policemen, linemen and other workers were filing into Our Place. When the couple heard that another restaurant was scalping people by charging ten dollars for two eggs, toast and bacon, they placed a sign in their window: FREE BLT’S--FREE COFFEE. Families, travelers and street people were welcomed.
Then something began to happen. People started to clean counters and sweep floors. Volunteers took over the dish washing from Jackay and helped Reb at the grill. Having heard about what was going on at Our Place from the local radio station, people from a neighboring town that had not been too badly hit by the storm brought food from their freezers. Stores and dairies sent over chicken, milk and foodstuffs of all kinds.
And so the long day went. Those first cups of coffee and BLT’s had somehow stretched to 16,000 meals. The restaurant’s small stock increased by 500 loaves of bread, cases of mayonnaise, 350 pots of coffee and bushels of produce.
I imagine this is what occurred at that secluded place with Jesus. The miracle was community happened. People reached out and shared what they had till there was abundance. The disciples, through the grace of Jesus’ learned to lead by example. What we have in this story, a story so important that it shows up in each of the Gospels, is the first example of paying it forward, and it was paid forward to the point of abundance.
In the play corpus Christi Joshua comes out of the desert hungry he approaches peter the fish monger and asks for fish. Peter proceeds to inform him that he is not running a charity but eventually he gives in and hands Joshua a fish. A nearby peasant woman observes this and asks for a fish as well. Peter gets frustrated yelling at Joshua “see what you started?” Joshua offers his fish to the woman who proceeds to tell him it is not for her but her five children. Joshua then pulls five fish out of the basket.
Peter, who observes all that is happening states; “It’s a miracle I gave you one, just one fish and you gave her five!” To which Joshua replies; “And you would have given her none!”
Out of his want Joshua gives the woman a fish and they are multiplied. The monger says I gave you one and Joshua says you would have given her none. Sometimes out of our need comes abundance. We can feed many one fish at a time or one sandwich at time. Art and Jerry how do you make your sandwiches for your day of feeding the homeless?? Do you suddenly have 30 or forty sandwiches?? They are made one at a time.
I think one message that can be taken from this story is not that Jesus worked a miracle but the miracle happened in community. I can’t feed 10 or twenty people myself but I can bring in a few cans of food and if everyone does we have a food pantry that is over flowing. I can’t possibly give enough to keep the doors open to the AIDS hospice in Tijuana but if I give a pocket of pennies every week eventually that jar over there fills up.
Jesus didn’t ask Phillip to collect enough money and buy enough food to feed all the people that were gathered. No Jesus asked what do you have? What can you do?? Can you give but one?? If you have no fish and bread can you offer the people a warm welcome and a place to sit?? Or do you choose to be overwhelmed and sit back and say I would give none? I would do nothing?? So I ask what are you being called to do?? Perhaps read a news paper to someone who has lost their sight?? Perhaps volunteer at a food bank?? Maybe just give one loaf of bread??
When we respond with I can do something.. Miracles happen and people are fed literally and spiritually. Amen.