Let’s pretend for a minute that you are throwing an elegant dinner party. A really, really big dinner party. You’ve set the table. All the silverware is in exactly the right position. The centerpieces are exquisite. You have worked, sweated, toiled away in the kitchen for days preparing for this.
And the guests start to arrive. They start munching on the appetizers and help themselves at the drink table. Good smells are wafting from the kitchen. It’s time for the first course. Everyone sits. The anticipation is building.
And as you are preparing, you begin to see that what had looked like a lot of food on the stove doesn’t quite fill up the plate. In fact, there is this creeping dread, a realization that maybe you should have doubled that recipe after all. That five course dinner is going to be a bit more like heavy hors d’oeuvres.
I think anyone who likes to entertain has that feeling from time to time. The fear of coming up short, of not having enough. You never quite know how much you’re going to need.
Now I have never had to cook for 5,000 people before. But I can imagine that any chef is going to need more than two fish and five loaves.
So the eager caterer wants to know: How did Jesus pull it off? I mean, two fish? What were they, marlins? Five loaves? Now, I called Subway Sandwiches this week and they told me that the 12-foot party sub feeds about 40 people and you have to order it 24 hours in advance…so you do the math.
How was this enough? What’s your trick, Jesus?
It really challenges the modern mind to come up with an explanation. We want to know how it all went down. But isn’t the whole point of a miracle that it defies explanation. God, after all, is never limited by material, finite things. And when God suspends the rules, when God breaks the barrier between the divine and the human, don’t thinks get a little mysterious?
The story of Jesus feeding the multitudes, is an important story. It’s not just important because it’s in the Bible. We know it’s important because it’s in the Bible six times. This is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that appears in all four of the Gospels. And two versions of it appear in both Mark and Matthew.
Clearly, this is something we need to pay close attention to. The stories are slightly different each time it’s told, but the point in all of them is that just at the moment when it seems like the is not going to be enough, suddenly there is. Scarcity turns into abundance.
What’s striking about this particular version of the story is not what Jesus does, rather it’s what Jesus says.
It’s been a long day of healing a preaching and the disciples just want to find a quiet place to turn in for the night: “Ehm, you know, Jesus, it’s getting late…let’s call it a day, shall we? So could you tell the crowds to go home?”
But Jesus looked out over the crowds and he saw the hunger in their eyes.
“No,” he says, “They don’t need to go anywhere. You give them something to eat.”
You give them something to eat.
You, disciples, you feed them.
Jesus didn’t feed the five thousand. He told his followers to do it. He tells me and you to do it.
Think about it for a moment: God doesn’t work alone. God has entrusted us to be the body of Christ in the world today. To be Jesus’s hands and feet in this time and place.
As one writer puts it: “To follow Jesus is to express our faith in concrete acts of love, justice and compassion towards others.”
And as we’ll hear Jesus say in a few weeks’ time: “When I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Concrete acts of love, justice and compassion.
That is a tall order. That is an awesome responsibility. But sometimes we look at things and wonder if we’ve got what it takes. The budget gets stretched thin. Our energy just isn’t there. We underestimated just how much we would need. This situation is a little more complicated that I can manage.
But here’s what we know from this story: “[Just] when we need it the most, God will give us the power to work for good in the world.”
When the food just doesn’t fill the plate, God fills it. When our resources run low, God provides. When we have given up hope, God’s Spirit takes over.
Take a minute to think about what we Christians do in the world, what our little congregation can accomplish. When we disciples work together and follow Jesus’ instructions, so often we find that there is more than enough.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard Jesus telling what the kingdom of God is like: a seed, a pear, a buried treasure. Today Jesus is showing us what the kingdom of God is. God’s kingdom is a feast where the food never runs out. In God’s kingdom everyone has a place, everyone is filled, everyone is satisfied.
What happened on that hillside in Galilee some two thousand years ago was a miracle to the five thousand who witnessed it. However it happened, it was amazing and astounding. It was a glimpse of just how much God loves us, a taste of God’s vision for this world.
But what God is doing in our world today, is no less amazing, no less astonishing. People like me and you are participating in God’s own work. We are feasting at God’s own table.
And we see just how far things can go when we place our trust in God’s love for everyone on this planet, when we answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, when we look for the Spirit breaking into the world in the most unlikely, unexpected places.
There is no need to worry if there will ever be enough because we know that through God, the plate is always full.