Year B, John 6:1-21 (Proper 12)
At the General Convention in 2012…the one before the meeting that just concluded earlier this month…our Presiding Bishop-elect, Michael Curry, preached a sermon in which he was calling on all of us to be “crazy Christians.” Not crazy in a bad way. Crazy in the Jesus way. The crazy “Jesus way” means doing the unexpected and the unprecedented, things that result in the building up of people and giving them that power that comes from the love of God.
The story of the feeding of the five thousand in today’s Gospel is definitely a crazy Jesus moment. In fact, this is crazy enough that it’s one of the few stories that is in all four Gospels in some form or fashion. Only Luke tells us of the Prodigal Son; Matthew and Mark have a Caananite or Syrophoenician woman depending on who is relating the story. But all four evangelists thought this feeding of the five thousand needed to be mentioned.
In John’s version…we know it’s close to Passover, which is the biggest Jewish holiday and remembers, with the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, how Moses helped to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus and his disciples have crossed over to the Sea of Tiberius. And a large crowd has gathered to follow after him as he continues to minister and heal people. Jesus sees all these folks, turns to Philip and says:
“Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
And while John doesn’t give us this detail, you can almost get this visual of Philip looking back at Jesus, his head kind of cocked like that RCA Victor dog, staring at him and—in contemporary terms—saying, “Seriously?!?!”
“Six months wages’ would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”
Even Andrew, who shows signs of some optimism when he notices the boy with the five loaves and two fish, is just as puzzled. “But what are they (these loaves and these fish) among so many people?” If you’ve seen the movie “Inside Out” you might see Andrew’s emotions at play here with the initial Joy at seeing the loaves and fish…only to become pessimistic when Sad gets ahold of the control panel as he surveys the large numbers before them.
Jesus, undaunted, has the crowd sit down on the grass. He takes the bread and the fish, raises it up to give thanks to God, breaks it, then he has his disciples distribute the food. And--lo and behold—everyone got as much as they wanted and they were satisfied. And when they collected the leftovers it filled twelve baskets, a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. Even the gathered fragments get pulled together to feed the people.
That’s crazy! At least by the standards applied in the world’s economy. In the world’s economy, somebody should have been hoarding and leaving others empty-handed. Or someone should have been complaining that by giving bread and fish to this group of one thousand would mean that these other four thousand were getting something less than their fill. There’s a finite number, and some will win and many will lose.
But this is the economy of God. And in the economy of God, five loaves of bread and two fish is more than enough and not only feeds those present on a mountainside but will feed all of those who come seeking. And nothing, and nobody, is lost.
This is the Eucharistic feast in John’s Gospel, the same Eucharist that we will remember and celebrate here in a short while. In the same way that the crowd was gathered, we will come to the table, shoulder to shoulder, people of all ages, all different backgrounds and all sorts of conditions, and we will each receive exactly what we need to sustain us and keep us in relationship with God and each other. No matter who you are or what you do or where you on your spiritual journey, you will be fed.
John will emphasize this point about the Eucharist later in this same Gospel chapter. If our lectionary diviners had wanted to go on (which would have meant poor Deacon Scott would have had to read an even longer passage), we’d hear Jesus say, “I am the bread of life,” which is even more satisfying than the loaves of barley bread this crowd had consumed. This is the same bread, that body of Christ, which we receive. And by bringing that body into ourselves, it nourishes the spirit within and empowers us to go share that power with others. Because there is plenty of God’s power and love to go around.
Jesus knows, and is telling everyone with ears to listen, that he too will be raised up, and broken in death, but he will overcome death in the resurrection and in this way…this crazy Jesus way…everyone will come to have eternal life because nothing, absolutely nothing, will defeat God and God’s love for all of creation. Not even death! This teaching, this type of discipleship that requires trusting that there’s enough Love for everyone and that Love is stronger than death, was a little too much for some to handle and they walked away. Some still do.
But there are many who don’t. There are still those of us who come to this table of God…a smaller scale version of what is the larger heavenly banquet...not for solace only, but for strength. We come not just for pardon only, but for renewal of our resources so that we can be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. As we look around in our communities, whether it’s in Thomasville, Cairo, Camilla, or even in Tallahassee, there are people who will be shocked and pleasantly surprised if they were to encounter Christians who exhibit the kind of generosity and willingness to help one another that makes five loaves and two fish into a feast. Too often, the people who we call “the unchurched” have felt, for whatever reason, that they weren’t invited in to discover they have a place at the table. Perhaps in their experience they were specifically told to stay away. Or maybe they’ve bought into that message that somehow you have to prove your worthiness, or wear the right clothes, or pass some other test of human design to gain acceptability in order to cross the threshold of the church door.
I once was providing massage therapy at a Wounded Warrior event organized by the diocese of Florida. This soldier was really talkative and had a little bit of that tough guy edge to him. He told me he wasn’t much into religion, but he appreciated being at this church camp. Then he looked at me in curiosity as I was working on his bicep:
“Are you part of the church?”
I smiled. “Yes, I am. I’m an Episcopalian.”
He laughed. “Well, I’ll be!”
Even the massage therapist was a Christian. It gave this guy something to think about as he experienced receiving kindness and caring beyond his expectations. We were everywhere…pouring out that love of God that had been poured into us through the Eucharist, and offering it back to those suffering from the wounds of war.
As the modern day theologian Henri Nouwen says, the transformation that happens at the table makes us more than individuals but a community:
the living Christ, taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world. As one body, we become a living witness of God's immense desire to bring all peoples and nations together as the one family of God.(Daily Meditation,“The Body of Community,” from “Bread for the Journey.”)
Having been fed, we end with praying that we have the strength and courage to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart through Christ our Lord. It’s not always easy, but it is our calling as members of this one Body into which we are baptized.
Don’t be afraid to be a little crazy with seeking to serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor…no matter who they are… as well as yourself. Show the world your craziness by striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Be crazy enough to live and love life in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.