This miracle is recorded by all four of the Gospel writers which means we look at it often if we follow the RCL. You may remember, but I doubt it :-), that the last time I preached on it, Luke’s account last year, we looked at God’s power manifested in Christ to provide even for our most basic needs – bread when we are hungry.
You know the story – 1000s of people, the Bible just says 5000 men, but we know there were women and children, probably an equal number – the exact number not important– it just makes Gods power more obvious.
The picture we have is that Jesus and his disciples tried to go somewhere quiet, they crossed Lake Galilee, but people walked around the shore – Jesus has crossed the Lake, but we’re going to try and find Him. Men and women and children setting off – knowing it was going to be quite a way – Jesus obviously wouldn't get into a boat just to go around the corner. So these people go around the lake to find Jesus.
They find Him, He teaches and He heals, the Bible tells us, because He was filled with compassion for them, and suddenly it’s late afternoon and people are getting hungry and they start looking around and the disciples ask, “How will we feed them?”
And then He take some stones, and He changes them into bread and He says, “Feed them.”
Is that how it happens? - No.
Could it have happened that way? Is Jesus that powerful – of course He is. But He doesn’t work that way, does He? He can, make no mistake, but He doesn’t. Famine and hunger constantly creep across Sub-Saharan Africa and disease coupled with malnutrition is destroying lives in our own country, even here, close to AMC. Could God turn stones into loaves and feed hungry people on Heidelberg Road? …… Hmmm ……of course He could.
Could we take our communion bread this morning, thank God the Father for it and then divide it between the thousands, because it is 1000s who are hungry around Alberton......of course we could, couldn't we?
How big is your God?
There is a Jewish woman who is a scholar of Jewish culture at the time of Jesus and who has converted to Christianity. She’s now a recognised Christian scholar. It’s always very interesting to read the stories, miracles and parables of Jesus from a Jewish Christian perspective. She says there were two things about this miracle which always bothered her as a Jewish mother – the fact that there was no food... and the amount of leftovers. 1000s of men, women and children going on what they knew would be a long walk, Jesus had crossed the lake, 1000s of Jewish mothers either setting off with no provisions or sending their husbands and children off with no provisions.
Her understanding of Jewish culture then and now makes that kind of neglect very strange. I can understand that – if I said to everyone in this church – we can get into the next cricket test for free, and there were lots of us who said: "let’s go", I know, I know because I’ve seen it in my family, that the moms, especially if the children were going, would throw together a pack of food, or run into the supermarket. That’s what Mom’s do. And this Jewish Christian Scholar says: "guess what – they were like that then as well." In fact she says more so, because in the days when you only got places by walking, and in the Middle Eastern heat you weaken quickly, you always took something. Kind of like whatever hurry you’re in, you always make sure there’s petrol in the car – they always made sure they had sustenance.
She says the fact that thousands and thousands of people didn't do that is strange, not impossible, but strange. Then she asks: Is it possible that a lot of people did have food but didn't want anyone else to know in case……they……had……to……share……it. "I've got enough for my family, why should I give to you who’s forgotten to bring for your family?" Do you know that feeling?
You know that feeling, we all know that feeling – we know it well.
It’s like if I’ve got a chocolate here – as soon as I let you know, what do I feel obliged to do – to share it …… or hmmm – a packet of biltong. Our Jewish Christian scholar likes to think that there was more than just the five loaves and two fish (that’s the biltong equivalent in Jesus’ day – salted fish.)
And when Jesus says: "Sit down, divide into groups" and then takes this little boy’s picnic pack for his family, prays over it and then says “now go and share it” ……
She likes to think that Jesus’ prayer when He lifted it up to Heaven for all to see was not "Father multiply this", but "Father open their hearts that they will share what they’ve already got with one another" – So Jesus prays, says the Bible, and suddenly there’s loaves and there’s fish.
12 basketsful are collected afterwards.
I am not suggesting that Jesus did not miraculously multiply the loaves. But I am saying there are two possible miracles here.
In the one: Jesus miraculously multiplies bread and fish and make no doubt, He can do that, then and now.
In the other miracle: Jesus' ministry and love and teaching works in and on the hearts of a few thousand people bringing them to the point where they are willing to share what they have with others.
Which is the greater miracle?
Growing bread or changing hearts?
Is your God big enough to not only grow bread but change hearts?
The people who study these things tell us that there is actually enough food to go around, that here in Ekurhuleni/Alberton, here in Gauteng, here in S.A., in the world: There is enough food. The miracle required is not a miraculous growth of food, there’s enough. The miracle required is that those who have food will share with those who don’t.....that is a real miracle, and like all good things in the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated with His resurrection, God now works with us to change the world.
The one miracle has Jesus doing all the work and we sit back and eat.
The other has Jesus changing our hearts, with our permission of course, to a point where we say: "What do I have, that someone else needs?"
Who can I share with today - my home, my money, my food, my time, my clothes?
Who can I share with today?
And when we do, then God's kingdom comes and God's will is done.
People are hungry – are you waiting for Jesus or the church to do something?
People are naked – are you waiting Jesus or the church to do something?
People are poor – are you waiting Jesus or the church to do something?
Children are being orphaned – are you waiting Jesus or the church to do something?
Are you wondering why it is that God doesn't do something?
A real kingdom miracle is needed.......You and I need to think about that.
As we come to the Lord's table in response to His gracious invitation to come to His table today,
We meet in the brokenness of the world and the cries of the hungry for bread.
Enable us to be the bread that You break which provides life for the world.
And when we come again to Your table, Lord, ourselves broken, may we once more become the bread of sincerity and truth, as You become for us the Bread of Life. (Alan Jenkins)