Readings: Galatians 4:21-31 and John 6:1-14
"Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around to those reclining there. He did the same with the dried fish as much as they wanted."
If you were to give a name to the miracle that you have just heard, I would suggest to you that you probably would use the name, "This is the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves." It has been traditionally known as that for as long as I can remember. But there is something amiss in using "multiplication of the loaves" as the title for this miracle. That is an interpretation of what happened. You are saying that you know what happened there exactly. But do we, really?
What really happened on that hillside with Jesus and the five thousand? This is a question that rationalists would raise in order to discount the miraculous power of Jesus. This is a question that you and I as people of faith would also ask. It's a normal human question for us. How did Jesus feed these 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two dried fish?
Unfortunately, we don't know. There really is no clear-cut answer. We do follow the Word of God, the Scripture, that says something miraculous happened here. We don't understand it anymore than we understand how the bread and wine on the altar can be transformed into the body and blood of the Lord. We don't know how it happens, but we do believe that it does happen. If we are confounded by the question of how it all happened, perhaps what we can address is why it happened.
Why did this happen? And what does this have to do with you and me in the twentieth century? All four of the Gospels, recount this miracle and they recount it for a purpose. Not in order that you and I can wonder at what Jesus did and say, "Isn't it marvelous what Jesus did 2,000 years ago!" If that's all that the Gospels are for, then we've missed the point. More than to marvel, it is for us to understand that God is teaching us something about Himself and about ourselves in those words of Scripture.
What can He possible teach in this story of his feeding 5,000 people? Who are the principals in the story? Jesus, of course, and Philip. Philip was asked a question: "Where are you going to get enough bread to feed all these people?" Jesus said this, writes John, in order to test him, to see what kind of faith he had. Philip's response was precisely the response that someone who is looking for an earthbound solution would give. "Let's see, if we scraped up enough money, we probably still couldn't buy enough bread in order to feed 5,000 people. Even if we go to Cub Foods, we cannot get that much for that little price." That is an earthbound solution to the problem. John wants us to see that.
Then Andrew comes along and unwittingly begins the solution. "There is a young boy here who has five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, but what is that among so many?" This young boy was a young entrepreneur, I'm sure, who had taken the opportunity to make a little money on the side. He packed a little sack with extra bread and some fish because he knew these people out there were going to be hungry and he could sell them for a good price. He had five loaves of bread, two fish. But what is that among so many? He becomes the key to the story. The key is this nameless young boy. He is the reason why this miracle happened.
Consider the alternatives. What could Jesus have done to feed that multitude? I suppose He could have taken up a collection and could have secured enough money to go off to Cub Foods and buy all the necessities. Not very practical. He could have worked a miracle and created bread and fish from nothing as God created from nothing at the beginning. He spoke His Word and there is this material world. He could have done that but He didn't.
He made His power depend upon this young lad with five barley loaves and two fish. He could take the little bit that young boy had and do something marvelous with it and feed 5,000 people. But first of all that young boy had to be willing to give up the bread and fish. He had to be willing to surrender it to Jesus and say, "It's not much. I don't know what you're going to do with it, but you can have it." Now Jesus could take that bread and fish and bless it and break it and give it to His disciples to distribute. After the crowd had eaten, they had enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets. The boy is the key to the story because he was willing to risk giving the little bit that he had to Jesus.
Can you see where this story is leading? Can you see what kind of a situation that you and I are finding ourselves in? And what Jesus wants us to do in turn with our lives? We can take a look at our talent. We can take a look at our material possessions. We can take a look at whatever we have. And we can say, "It's not much." Yet if we are willing to surrender what we have to God, to make it available to the Lord, He can bless it and multiply it. He can make it grow from five to 5,000. That's quite a return on an investment, but does that ever take trust! You have to trust that Jesus would actually be able to do that. And we are so fearful that we are going to lose the little bit that we have that we don't really want to say, "Whatever I have belongs to God and He can do with it as He wills." Can you really say that? Completely and totally? That is real surrender to the will of God. But isn't that what this story is truly about? We don't have to worry about how He did this, but we do have to wonder about the why. He did this in order to teach us a lesson that He can take the little bit that we have and bless it and expand it 5,000 fold.
None of us should ever say, "I don't have much." None of us should ever say, "There isn't much that I can offer or give. There isn't much that I am able to do." Oh, yes, there is. The one thing that each and every single one of us can do, "Whatever I have, I give totally to the Lord. I give it to Him completely: without strings, without reservations, not holding back one fish for myself. No, I give Him everything." And then watch what happens. That is the blessing.
Isn't that what you and I celebrate when we come together for Eucharist? There is a Eucharistic theme in this Gospel reading, isn't there? In fact, the words that John uses are liturgical directions. They were seen as such by the first century Church. "Jesus took the bread. He blessed it. He broke it. And He distributed it." These are liturgical directions because John saw in this marvelous miracle a foretaste of the celebration of the Eucharist which is in turn a foretaste of the eternal banquet in heaven and it all involves the same thing: The surrender of ourselves to God totally and completely.
When that bread and wine are placed upon the altar in a few minutes, they symbolize you and me: our gift to God of all that we have, or the little that we have. We will offer them to our God and they will be transformed and given back to us as the Body and Blood of the Lord to remind us of the very simple idea that in order for us to live in true brotherhood, we honestly have to share what we have. In doing so, God blesses our gift -and us as well!
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne