I noticed some things as I read the story this time that I hadn’t noticed before, or that struck me differently. As I was reading up on the story, I realized that this version of the story is the only one in which we are told that the bread was barely loaves as opposed to just saying “bread”. I learned something about that; barley was most often used to make the bread of the poor. Also, in John’s telling of the story, it is Jesus who distributes the bread and the fish to everyone. Lastly, for whatever reason, I was really captivated by Jesus telling the disciples to gather up the fragments so that nothing might be lost, which resulted in 12 baskets full.
The bread being the bread of the poor, barley loaves makes sense to me, because of who would be gathering to listen to Jesus; it also points to Jesus being the hope for the poor; often in discussions about Jesus, especially by those who write theologies of liberation, we hear that God has a special love for the poor.
I think that this story has so many layers of meaning for so many of us. We see Jesus feeding people, feeding the hungry and poor; he is concerned about them and takes care of their most basic needs; it is difficult for anyone to be able to do anything if they are hungry, truly hungry, and Jesus makes sure that everyone has enough to eat, both physically and spiritually. The idea that it is Jesus that feeds them directly, is also quite important. I believe it symbolizes God’s love and desire to feed us all, not just physically but spiritually as well. God is directly involved in our spiritual lives even in the simplest of actions; no one else needs to mediate that action; God desires to be close to us in intimate and simple ways. God has an abundance of love and spiritual food for all who come to be fed, so much so that the baskets are overflowing with food that is left over; no one goes away hungry because all have been fed by God.
Then there are those 12 baskets of leftovers that Jesus was so concerned for, concerned that nothing be lost. If I were to take a guess, I would say that the 12 baskets represented the 12 tribes of Israel and of course, the 12 disciples. Perhaps these leftovers were to symbolize the ministry of the disciples to carry on the ministry of feeding the poor as well as the spiritual feeding of everyone who wanted to learn about Jesus. Maybe these baskets full of bread and fish were to show that in God’s kingdom there is no hunger, only abundance even if one were to show up late. I cannot even imagine what the crowd must have thought about it all; they came to see Jesus as they were fed, fed so well that they were all satisfied and given as much as they wanted to eat; just like God did when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness; God gave them manna, bread from heaven and meat to eat, as much as they wanted so that they were satisfied.
I cannot help but think of the Eucharist as I think about this story. I know that when I come to the table I come as one who is spiritually poor and in need. And as a priest I have a unique and holy privilege of knowing what hunger and need some of you bring as you come forward to be fed. I also pray that as each of us is fed, that we walk away knowing that as Jesus has done for us, so we must do for another; we must go forth from here and feed Jesus’ people, those who are spiritually poor as well as those who are physically poor. As I think of the 12 baskets of leftovers, we are the bearers of the leftovers. The abundance of God’s love that we receive here is more than even we can handle; and so that means that there is more for us to carry forth from here to give to others. Isn’t that what discipleship is? Bringing the soul filling love of Christ to those who hunger for it? And, like Jesus we have to meet the physical as well as the spiritual needs of those whom we are called to minister with.
I am excited that St. Michael’s has been chosen as one of five or six churches in the diocese to participate in the Holy Currencies Ministry Idea Incubator Cohort. Sounds fun, right? A small team of us will be participating in some meetings where we will talk with others about ministry in our community. We will be “incubating” ideas for how to bring the love of Christ out from this table to our community. We will take our basket of leftovers, spiritual and physical into Longview to minister with part of our community that needs those leftovers. I find this to be an exciting opportunity that I hope will bear fruit in our community.
Jesus has fed the 5,000 and today he feeds us. May we remember as we come to be fed by him that we come as those who are poor; may we also come as those who remember those who are poor; and may we bring our leftover love, grace, reconciliation, and even physical food to those who need to know they are loved and cared for, just as we know that we are.
Almighty and everliving God,
we thank you (for feeding us) that we shall be fed with the spiritual food
of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us in these holy mysteries
that we are living members of the Body of your Son,
and heirs of your eternal kingdom.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.