PROPERS: PROPER 12, YEAR B
TEXT: JOHN 6:1-21
PREACHED AT ST. PAUL’S, FOLEY, ON SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2018.
ONE SENTENCE: Gifts which we return to God have a miraculous way of being sufficient.
Imagine the scene. See it in your mind’s eye.
Five-thousand people are gathered on a grassy hillside – a hillside which descends from the highlands into the deep blue waters of the Sea of Galilee.
The mass of people had gathered in this spot because they had heard that this remarkable teacher from Nazareth would be there. Being largely a spiritual but not religiousgroup, they wanted to hear what he had to say.
They were a mixed group – tradesmen, fisherfolk, people seeking to eke-out a meager existence. The Hebrew name for this great, unwashed mass of common folk was am ha’ aretz – people of the land.
Their formal education was either negligible or non-existent. They lived from day-to-day, from hand-to-mouth. The teachings they would hear would be grounded in their everyday world – of seeds dying and taking root; of the life of grief, hunger, homelessness, and illness; of the oppressiveness of the Law and its minute requirements; of their belovedness in the eyes of their Creator.
Yes, they would hear all this – either that day or in some subsequent teaching by this young rabbi.
But, first, they were hungry. Before he could feed their souls, this teacher would need to fill their empty bellies. And therein lay the problem.
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The Feeding of the Multitude is a miracle that is found in each of the four gospels. The versions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are remarkably similar. The account in John’s gospel is somewhat different, but that should be expected. John’s source of the tradition is different from the other three, and also later in being written.
There is a variety of explanations for the miraculous feeding of the multitude – from a mere five barley loaves and two fish. It is interesting to note that all the accounts have the same basic result – the multitude is fed and12-baskets-full are remaining.
There is, of course, the interpretation that Jesus – simply and miraculously – multipliedthe loaves and fishes. That is the interpretation that is most frequently accepted.
Another interpretation is that the crowd, seeing the five loaves and two fish offered as food, reached into their knapsacks and withdrew their own food – and offered it, too. The point is that generosity begat generosity.
The scripture really doesn’t disclose what happened. And it really doesn’t matter. The reality is that the people were fed by Jesus.
We have John’s version before us today. It is very similar to the accounts in the three synoptic gospels. Except one thing.
In John’s gospel account – the one we hear today – there is a boy. And that boy has five barley loaves and two fish – an insignificant amount for such a large crowd. But that boy gives all of it – all the food that he has – to Jesus.
Jesus says simply: “Make the people sit down.” Scripture tells us: “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”
After the five thousand had eaten their fill, the remains were collected – 12 baskets full. All this from a meager offering of five loaves and two fish.
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A book of theology was written entitled,“In Memory of Her,”as a memorial to a woman in the Bible who had shown profound faith in Jesus. I think that a book could also be written entitled, “In Memory of Him,”as a testament to the young boy who gave his five loaves and two fish.
He is memorialized in scripture. Look at what he did… and what was the end result. He gave allthe food he had… likely five rounds of pita bread and two small smoked fish… and five thousand people were fed.
How it happened does not matter. The end result was the same. God’s work was done.
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There is a message for you and me: Whatever we give… when we give out of faith and selflessness… will be sufficient.
God will take our gifts… and here is an important point: which we offer backto him… and use them for his work. Those offerings are to be given back to God with hearts of gratitude and without strings attached. We give our gifts and we let go of control.
We are unlikely to memorialized like the young boy, and remembered down through the ages. But our gifts from hearts of generosity and faith will bless and multiply them in ways we cannot imagine and may not see.
Whatever we offer… whether in the offering plate or in the food to needy families… God’s purposes are served. The gifts we offer, from the small to the great, will be sufficient for the purposes of God.