On 3rd August, 2014 Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22, Isaiah 55:1-5, and Matthew 14:13-21.
Miracles are very much a part of the story of Jesus and many are recorded in the Gospels. The feeding of the five thousand is recorded in all four Gospels, suggesting that it is very significant. This event was more than a record breaking picnic. It served to demonstrate that Jesus is Lord of Creation and that he and God are one.
A few years ago, my husband and I used to host a monthly social event. Around a dozen couples used to attend. We studied the bible together and then enjoyed supper and chat until around midnight. As you can imagine, it would have been quite a challenge to provide food for such a big group of people. To make the catering easier, we provided French bread, butter, cheese and some salad and fruit. Everyone else brought food to share.
Everyone really looked forward to those Saturday evenings. The company was excellent. The amount and variety of food was amazing. When supper time came we were spoilt for choice. If you’ve ever been to an event where everyone brings some food I think you will have noticed that there always seems to be far more food than is needed, even if each person only brings a little. There is usually a lot left over. Our children were always eager to see what was in the fridge the next morning as our guests usually generously left any extra for us.
When considering the feeding of the five thousand, many have suggested that something like our monthly meals occurred. The disciples provided five loaves and a couple of dried fish. When those were passed around other people added the food that they had to the collection so that in the end there was more than enough for everyone.
Although it’s not impossible that people might have shared their food, I think we have to wonder why the disciples were so sure that the people needed to go and buy food. They must have been pretty certain that at least the majority had nothing with them to eat. Had they noticed that the people had food but were so busy listening that they forgot to eat, the disciples could have suggested that Jesus take a break from teaching and encourage the people to eat their food.
The alternative is that Jesus actually did what the account says: he took a very small amount of food and made more, enough to feed around 15000 people probably. Of course, such an event appears to defy the laws of physics. Even people who lived two thousand years ago and whose knowledge of science was nothing like ours would have known that this sort of thing cannot happen. Unlikely though the event may be, it is recorded in all four gospels which suggests it is a very important and significant event.
The miracles which Jesus performed are of two types. We have many healing miracles in the gospels, either individual healings when we are given details of the affliction and how Jesus dealt with it, or more general healing as in this passage when we simply know that many people were healed. Healing was something which the Messiah was expected to do. Hence healings demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah rather than just a rabbi or even a prophet.
The second type of miracle Jesus performed were those where Jesus demonstrated his power over the natural world. Making enough food to satisfy so many people is an act of creation. It shows that Jesus is Lord of creation. In Colossians 1:16 we are told that everything owes its existence to Jesus. Yet if we read Genesis we are told that God created all things. The feeding of the five thousand demonstrates that Jesus and God are one.
As the psalmist tells us, God is loving and merciful and makes provision for his people. That is exactly what we see Jesus doing here. God’s provision is not scant but abundant. He is a God of great generosity. Likewise Jesus’ provision for the people was not ‘just enough’ but more than enough. Twelve baskets of leftovers were collected after all were satisfied. These may denote the twelve tribes of Israel which Jesus is able to provide for. As Lord of creation, Jesus is not limited to providing for one or two people, or even 15000 people; he can supply the needs of all.
It’s obviously important for us today to have evidence of who Jesus is by reading about this event in the gospels. It’s also important to note how Jesus provided for the people then because that gives us insight into how he continues to work now. When Jesus first saw the crowd, despite his own need for time to mourn the death of his cousin John, he had compassion on them and set about healing the sick whom they had brought to him.
Perhaps the disciples were copying Jesus’ compassion when they went to him and said that the people needed food. Jesus took the opportunity to show the disciples that compassion is not enough: ‘You do something about it’. The task was beyond the disciples of course but if we examine what happened, a model emerges that could help us.
The disciples observed the situation with compassion. They asked Jesus to act to solve the problem. He handed the problem back to them but it was beyond their ability. However, when they looked for what resources they had (five loaves and two fish) Jesus asked them to bring them to him. Jesus took their small contribution, blessed it and then gave it back to the disciples who in turn gave it to the people. In this way the problem of thousands of hungry people was solved in a miraculous way.
When we look at the huge problems facing the world at the moment, it’s hard not to feel compassion for those caught up in conflict and disaster. The problems are too big for us and so we take them to Jesus in prayer. I think we also need to do whatever small thing we can to alleviate the problem, as the opportunity presents itself. It may mean giving money, or welcoming strangers in our own neighbourhood, or inviting a lonely person to have a meal with us, or sitting and listening to someone who is struggling in life. Those are such small things compared to the issues, but so were the loaves and fish compared to 15000 people. Jesus will take what we have, bless it and give it back to us so that we can give to others.
With Jesus’ blessing our little can go a very long way.