When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 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. --John 6: 5-11
This description from the Gospel of John on the feeding of the five thousand is only a small portion of what was read in Episcopal Churches throughout the United States Sunday morning. And, in all likelihood, the sermons preached put more focus on the fact that everyone was fed at the feeding of the five thousand. Or that Jesus withdrew when the crowds wanted to make him a King, or that Jesus finally reappears out on the water, panicking the disciples half-to-death and leading to another time of Jesus saying, "Do not be afraid." I suppose some could even twist it into yet another lesson to be learned out of the General Convention. There's plenty to look at in the first 21 verses of John 6! But what I thought was interesting was the command to "Make the people sit down." This is what really struck me.
The act of having the people sit was a way of making sure that everybody calmed down. And it likely slowed them down, something that had to happen in order for the crowd to receive what Jesus was about to give them: the fish and the bread that they wanted and would satisfy them.
This "quieting" of the anxious spirit is something massage therapists do as a matter of course every day. Through the simple act of placing a hand on the back of a neck or shoulder or feet I can sometimes see a person's body undergo a change that indicates they are ready to receive the work. My hands sink in deeper and I know that this attention, and the client's gradual slowing down of the breath, will lead to a change in this person's spirit... as well as the loosening and stretching of the connective tissue wrapping their muscles. They will emerge from the session renewed, having had everything they wanted and now feeling satisfied. But in order to get there they need to "sit down" or "lie down" as the case is in a massage.
So having Jesus order everyone to "sit down", to me, seems like he's looking to get the crowd into a place of being ready to receive whatever they were going to get. Literally, it's a piece of fish with a slice of bread. But in a broader, figuarative sense, it's the feeding of the spirit.
And this leads me to a question: how often do we sit down and take time to prepare ourselves to really receive God? And will we know it when it happens? Or will we keep ourselves all abuzz, so that we remain disconnected?
I have experienced the order to "sit down" in my faith journey. There have been those times when I have wanted to grab hold of the wheel of the boat and take charge of piloting this vessel in one direction or another. And that's usually when the command comes from within that I am to "Sit down!" I don't always like that command. I don't always want to obey that command. But inevitably I usually do because to not do so often times feels like the wrong choice.
I have been feeling that choice a lot lately. A choice to try and take command of the boat, or to simply sit down and receive whatever it is that I am to receive. Sitting is not always easy, but it seems the best course of action.
At least for me.