Feeding the Five Thousand
by Rev Tony Meek, from Ipplepen, Devon
27th July 2003
If you were brave enough, or foolish enough, to stand in the Harlequin Centre one day with a clipboard, stopping passers-by and asking them to name two miracles performed by Jesus, I guess that water into wine and feeding the five thousand would come out tops.
We know the stories. When we heard today's gospel, we thought, yes, I know that one. That's not always the case, specially with our funny new lectionary. Because some worthy committee thought it would do us good to work steadily through each of the gospels in turn, we sometimes get some pretty obscure gospel readings. I don't know about you, Father, but I sometimes find myself hoping that there will be some material for a sermon in one of the other readings on those days!
But today we fed the five thousand. And did you catch that sub-plot, before the main story began? That cautionary tale of two disciples? Jesus said to Philip, 'Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?'....... Philip answered him, 'Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.' Jesus said, 'Philip, what can we do?' Philip said, There is nothing we can do.' Nothing. What can you bring to help solve this problem Philip? Nothing.
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Jesus, 'There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.' Andrew said, I'm not sure how they'll help, but there's a boy with some food here. Faced with an enormous problem, Philip throws up his hands and decides that nothing can be done. Faced with the same problem, Andrew offers what he has, to see what Jesus can make of it.
At our PCC meeting in Ipplepen in Devon the other week, we heard the exciting news that we have to spend £19,000 to restore our organ within the next year. We have just committed ourselves to spend £5,000 on a new sound system. Bits of the window tracery are crumbling and need repair. And some plaster has crumbled off the wall, revealing parts of a medieval wall painting. We might need to hold a couple of coffee mornings! But nobody said that we can't raise the money. The treasurer told us how much we had in the Fabric Fund, and we must roll up our sleeves to raise the rest.
As King Lear said, 'Nothing comes of nothing'. The nothing times table is the easiest there is. Once nothing, is nothing, twice nothing is nothing, ....and so on. But offer God what you have, however small it may be, and see what it can grow to, with His grace.
We need Andrews, rather than Phillips. And I use the terms figuratively of course, not really wishing to offend any passing Philip, or massage the ego of any resident Andrew.
So that all comes just from the opening sub-plot of this story. But there is of course much more. The story of the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle which is recorded in all four gospels. A lot of people get rather hung up on miracles. They seem to think that Jesus was some clever conjurer. They are anxious to work out 'how it was done'.
I used to like watching Paul Daniels on television. I liked him. Not a lot, but he is, or was, good and clever. But I know that what he does is not magic. It's quick and slick and convincing, but it's all an illusion. He is an illusionist. There is no magic. I don't know how he does it, but another conjurer would.
I use my computer a lot. They are very clever, but I don't even begin to understand how they work. But they are not magic, and certainly not a miracle.
The gospels do not tell us in so many words that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. Just that he took, and gave thanks, and distributed them. And that the people were fed, with as much as they wanted. And that twelve baskets were filled with the pieces left uneaten. Took - gave thanks - distributed. Or, in a another version of the same story, took - blessed - broke - gave.
Jesus' action on that hillside by the Sea of Galilee is so full of overtones of the Last Supper - and of our Eucharist.
Jesus performed miracles. I don't want to know; I can't begin to know; it doesn't matter for us to know, how God through his Son, fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fishes. But it was a sign of God's glory. And in taking, blessing, breaking and giving them bread, God's people were fed, refreshed and inspired to recognise Jesus as the Christ. 'This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.' they said.
And so with us. Week by week coming together as the family of the Church, the family of Christ, the children of God. We may try to imagine God's sadness that his family is still so divided in the wider sense. But still, all over the world, groups of Christians come together as a family. Finding constant renewal, fresh resources, the very meaning of our existence, in the Eucharist.
It is a feast which knows no limitations of numbers, time or space. Through it, Jesus gives Himself to those nearest to Him and they in turn pass on what they have received to the hungry multitudes around. On that hillside by the Sea of Galilee; at the Last Supper; and in our Eucharist, here this morning and every week.
As we approach our Eucharist, let us remember Jesus in His glory. Let us remember how he takes and blesses and gives us the bread of heaven. Let us indeed feed on him in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.
And refreshed by this heavenly food, let us remember that whenever we are faced by some insurmountable obstacle, we should in faith offer to Our Lord whatever we have, whatever we can do. And watch in humble amazement at the power which God can unleash in us to do His work.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
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Last updated 30/07/2003 08:00 Author: Rev Tony Meek