July 22, 2018

Feeding the Five Thousand

Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14: 13-21, Luke 9: 10-17, John 6: 1-14

-Anne Ellis

We’re going to do things a little differently today. Rather than read scripture then reflect were going to tell the story and reflect at the same time. The reason for this is it’s a big story. It’s one of the great miracle stories of the bible! It has lots of people and lots of drama, so to me it made sense for us to put ourselves INTO the story rather than be observers of the story.

You might have noticed that there were 4 scripture readings for today. AND if you happened to have looked them all up ahead of time you’d have discovered that they’re all the same story.

This story – the feeding of 5000 people – is in all four gospels. This tells us that it’s a really important story – worth repeating. In each version there are parts that are all the same- these are the parts we’re going to focus on as we tell the story.

But we need to back-up a little bit first, we need to set the stage for what’s about to happen.

Just like some tv shows have story arcs that span a number of episodes this story makes more sense when we’re seen the previous episodes of this show.

So… Previously on… The Story of Jesus… Jesus has sent out the disciples giving them authority to heal, cast out demons and proclaim the kingdom of God. There aren’t stories, in scripture of what they all do and where they all go, but in the next chapter King Herod has learned about Jesus and his powers.

We already know from the Birth Narrative in Matthew King Herod has felt threatened by Jesus in the past. Now the gospels tell us (in Matthew, Mark and Luke) Herod is feeling threatened again by these rumors and also believing there is a connection with Jesus and John the baptist – has John killed.

When our story begins Jesus and the 12 are back together. In Matthew it is said, When Jesus heard what had happened to John the baptist, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a private place”.

So let’s imagine Jesus gathering with his disciples. Who wants to join me as a disciple – 12 people would be great, but we’ll work with who joins. (Wait for people to come join at the back of the sanctuary)

Jesus is grieving. The disciples are grieving.

(Walk towards the front of the sanctuary) He wants to be alone, but the disciples and then a big crowd follow him. (disciples follow along with me. And now anyone who wants to be a part of the crowd come down to the front as well)

Imagine that. Jesus just wants to be somewhere to rest and grieve for his cousin and friend. But he can’t because all these people want to see him.

Somehow Jesus finds it within himself to heal the sick, share some teaching and speak about the kingdom of God. Which is itself a miracle in my opinion.

As the day passes the crowd- 5000 strong – grow hungry.
Let’s pause the story for a moment. 5000 people. Can you think about a time when they were in a crowd of five thousand people? Can you imagine that?

Our max occupancy here is 350 – which if you’ve been to the 7 pm Christmas eve service – you’ll know what that feels like. But we’d need 14 times more people to come close to five thousand.

The Queen E theater has an occupancy of just under 3000. Nat Bailey Stadium is just over 6000 so that’s a good image to have in your mind.

So try to imagine what it’s like to be in a crowd of that many people. After a few hundred it gets hard to imagine – it’s just a really big crowd of people.

This crowd of people are hungry, tired, probably hot and thirsty. Here’s where the story gets interesting. The disciples ask Jesus to let the people go to the nearby town for food. And Jesus responds by saying, no YOU feed them.

You feed them.

“We don’t have enough food. We only have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.” Pick up plates of loaves and fish.

Jesus says, “that’s ok. Gather the people in groups of 50 or 100,” he tells the disciples. Then he blesses the food.

Hand plates to disciples (but don’t hand out anything just yet). He gives this blessed food to the disciples to hand out and miracle of miracles there’s enough for everyone and there’s even leftovers!

The disciples gather, the story (in all four gospels) tells us, “all the broken pieces in 12 baskets.”

Get out the 12 baskets. Place them on the steps.

We’re going to pause again. Because something really strange just happened. In fact a few really strange things have happened.

Let’s take a look at it from another angle, the angle of Allegory; rather than seeing this story as an actual event.

The definition of Allegory is: a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. Keep this thought in your mind. ‘Allegory uses symbol and metaphor to seek out the truth in a story, regardless of whether or not it’s a true story.’

Very recently Jesus has sent his twelve out to do the same work he’s been doing. They’ve all come back together, perhaps to grieve Johns death, and Jesus is withdrawn and needing rest.

Let’s pretend of a moment or two that when we read about the people eating and being filled by these 5 loaves and 2 fish that we’re not hearing about food at all, but rather spiritual nourishment.

And these 5 loaves and 2 fish are symbols of teaching and wisdom. (Flip over the fish and bread – show the words Teaching and Wisdom) The people have been gathered listening to Jesus all day, and now it is late.

Have you ever been in a crowd of 5000 people? How could the people way at the back have possibly heard anything anyone was saying more than a few feet away?

I’ve never been in a crowd of that many people and it be quiet enough to hear one person talking. Especially not without a microphone.

I can imagine that Jesus is tired, maybe his throat is getting sore. But crowd is still hungry – still wanting spiritual nourishment. So Jesus says to his disciples, “You feed them.” He blesses them, hands out teaching and wisdom to the twelve, who then went out into the crowd. The crowd with the help of the 12: all ate and were filled.

All ate and were filled – every one of the gospels has this line.

All ate are were filled – not necessarily with actual bread and fish, but with wisdom and teaching: by the disciples. (Give bread and fish to disciples)

Many people know this story as Jesus’ miracle. He feeds 5000 people. And while that is a really great miracle. For me the disciples participation in the miracle is what I find fascinating. Jesus has passed on his teaching and wisdom to others and said – go. You can do this work too – you can nourish the people just as well as I can.

Maybe this was done because Jesus was tired and sad. But more so, I like to believe, because he looked at this huge crowd of people and knew that he couldn’t manage it alone, regardless of his state of mind.

He’s already sent his disciples out once before to spread wisdom and teaching. Here he is doing it again. Telling the disciples not to send away the people on their own – but to invite them to stay and be taught by them. “You feed them.” He says, by which he means, “You’re capable. I trust you. You’ve got this.”

All ate and were filled: the disciples are capable, the people trusted them and they were nourished. (rip up these pieces and hand them around, keep a few)

The story doesn’t end there. We still have these 12 baskets full of the broken pieces. What on earth does that mean? Here’s where symbolism really matters.

There were 12 tribes of Israel. They are the main players in the Hebrew Scriptures – the 12 sons of Jacob: who go out at populate the land. Over the centuries of exodus, arrival in the holy land, exile and reunion the 12 tribes became scattered and their influence ebbed and flowed.

Now, in the time of the gospel writers there is a vision of these scattered, broken tribes being recreated, being re-formed by Jesus and his teachings.

The people are scattered and broken, yet the disciples are able to gather them up, put them in a basket and there is room for all of them. The baskets contain them, are ‘safe spaces’, if you will. (Put ripped up pieces in the baskets)

The story ends with a reminder that on that day five thousand people were nourished by Jesus and his disciples, even the scattered and broken were nourished.

It’s great to think about the miracles Jesus performed – but where does that leave us? People who are not necessarily miracle workers to Jesus’ standards. That’s why I like to focus on the part the disciples played in this story – Jesus is starting to empower others to spread the word. He’s delegating, as he realises that he just can’t do this work on his own.

It’s time for others to step up and be a part of the message. And that’s good for us. Did the disciples feel ready? Did they feel smart enough? We don’t know how much education had occurred to prep these people to head out into the world. But we do know Jesus blessed them and if we look back at the previous story when he sent these people out into the world, he told them to do so without taking any bag, extra clothes, food, stuff.

Was he talking about actual real stuff, or did he mean to not take ‘baggage’ like emotional baggage, doubts, and self confidence issues?

If that’s what he meant, and I like to be believe that to be so – then by telling the disciples to go as yourselves, with my blessing – is a good message for us. We as ourselves are enough. We as ourselves have the wisdom and knowledge and the blessing to go out in the world and nourish others with our presence, our compassion and our love.

And that’s a pretty good message for all of us. (and we don’t have to smell like fish when we do it, either)