Feeding the Multitude

There are three ways, maybe more, that I’ve heard preachers interpret this miracle in our gospel story, before us today:

1) As a true miracle, that indeed the supply of five loaves and two fish did not run out, but were able to satisfy the multitudes.

(It’s only natural to someone who sees the bible as the living word of God to go for this option, because to to believe in ordinary explanations would bring God down to our level, turning an extraordinary God into an ordinary one.)

2) As Spiritual food, that a small portion was given as at the Eucharist and people were fed spiritually.

(To the more traditional or eucharistic person this second option might be more acceptable.)

3) As a miracle of the changing of selfish hearts and minds, and that as Jesus gave out food, they too were shamed into getting out their food which they had hidden and were selfishly keeping to themselves, and they shared it too so that everyone was satisfied.

(It’s only natural… for people who think a logically and who like clear cut answers to want to have all the loose ends tied …as in the third option.)

But let’s not worry how we understand the miracles that Jesus performed or get anxious because we want them explain them in such a way that they are acceptable to our particular way of thinking.

What we have to remember is that when Jesus is present, the weary find rest, and hungry souls are fed.

But do miracles only appear in the NT? No, there are similar stories of God’s miraculous provision in the Old Testament.

1) of manna given by God to the Israelites in the wilderness, under Moses leadership. Bread appears naturally like flakes of frost on the ground. Meat arrives in the form of a flock of quails landing in the camp. And when the people are desperately thirsty a dry rock is struck by Moses and out comes water.

2) In the OT, in a time of famine, it is recorded that the prophet Elijah asks a widow for some bread; and even though she only has a very little flour in a jar and some oil in a jug, she obeys him and cooks him a cake and from that moment on her supply of flour and oil does not run out until the famine is over.

3) There is also a record of the prophet Elisha, commanding a man who has twenty loaves of barley bread to feed one hundred people. All the people are fed, and there is some left over.

In each of these OT stories, God provides abundantly for his hungry people, in their greatest need, He works through a person of faith, and the miracle happens as in the NT;

at the right time, and in the right place, and the people are amazed and their belief is strengthened.

But now the difference is that someone one far greater than Moses and Elijah (or Elisha for that matter) was now before the people, and the miracles he would perform would truly amaze and astound people.

I’m a believer in the miraculous, and I don’t make any apology for this!

My reasoning is that if God truly came to earth in human form, then surely water can be changed into wine, storms stilled by a single command,

I believe in healing and that unclean spirits can be driven out from a person in the name of Jesus, because I’ve witnessed these.

I believe in Jesus’ promise that one day even we would do even greater things by the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts, natural and supernatural, to people today

But there are lessons in God’s word for each one of us within each story and event in the life of Jesus, where God is attempting to speak to our hearts today, and it will be a different word for each one of us.

Firstly what today’s gospel says to me is that, Jesus realised his need of God, his need for refreshment and rest in prayer, in stillness and calm, sometimes in isolation and seclusion. He had just heard of John the Baptist’s death, he was human, he needed to draw apart to think, and needed rest.

Jesus never ran recklessly into danger; he recognised the need to listen to his Father’s direction upon his life; and with the shadow of the cross drawing nearer, he knew he had to meet with God, before his met with men.

It was a natural thing for him to do.

How often do we hurtle into dark tunnels in our busy lives, with no guiding light of prayer before us to light the way and enliven our minds; no word of warning to sound an alarm.

How many days go by, where there is no conversation at all with the God of love who wishes to speak to each of us personally?

Secondly, we learn something of the tender compassion of Jesus, who even though he wanted his own space, and time away from crowds, his heart nevertheless went out to the people when he saw them in their need, so he left his seclusion and conducted a healing service!. Jesus never saw anyone as a nuisance, even when his own spirit was low, even when his body was crying out for rest.

How many people have we turned away from Christianity because we have been busy or otherwise occupied or perhaps because of our negative attitudes? (I say ‘we’ I’m included in this!)

How many people have we turned our backs on, people whom God very much wanted us to welcome?

Jesus went the extra mile for people, and asks us to do the same... hadn’t he just been teaching them…

‘if someone wants your tunic, give him your shirt as well, if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles!’

In other words ‘Go overboard with your love!’ Be lavish with it! Overdo it!

A third lesson is to be learnt:

Jesus never turned away or lost an opportunity for good, but saw many possibilities in encounter and in difficult and testing times..

They say that a pessimist is one who sees a difficulty in every opportunity; and an optimist is one who sees an opportunity in every difficulty.

Jesus was an optimist. We too, through our inheritance as disciples of Jesus, and children of God, are called to be optimists too.

In the light of our churches decline in general and falling numbers, and if we are truly the body of Christ, we must first ask ourselves ~ is the church really making the most of every opportunity and encounter with others?

Or are we so wrapped up in our own spiritual needs and physical concerns that we become resistant to God’s plan for us as a church? I think in particular of rain unable to soak a car that just been waxed.

Are we so well provided for and comfortable that we don’t need to pray for miracles anymore?

How many opportunities all over the world are lost, as we in the ‘so-called’ Christianised West, fail to provide REAL sustenance to the hungry, and VITAL water for the thirsty, MUCH NEEDED spiritual food to our neighbours?

How many opportunities are lost when we don’t confront untruths, or cower away from violence and fanaticism IN FEAR?

Hotel Rwanda:

Lat week I saw a very moving film about the civil war in Rwanda; 1994?;

As rebels advanced, Western civilians were withdrawn from the area, it was then that a journalist informed the others, the native people, that realistically, help would not be forthcoming; that because they had black skins no-one would care for them, and that the UN troops were being ordered to withdraw from them for their own safety, and that they would now be left there defenceless.

A journalist said to the Rwandan hotel manager ‘the people in the West who indeed might be able to help, will watch the news, throw their hands up and say, ‘How awful’ and go back to eating their breakfasts!’ The man was devastated!

By the end of that war, one million lives were lost!

It was as he said.

FINALLY ~ Let us bear in mind that the crowd in this story could also be representative of ‘overwhelming need’; the kind that Jesus knew we would face us one day in the world.

Is our reaction is the same as that of the disciples, who couldn’t see any possible solution to the problem before them.

‘Master send the crowds away’ the disciples said to Jesus,

…in other words…distance the problem…let them see to themselves…it’s too big us to sort out, perhaps we, like them, are too are afraid of being overwhelmed and out of our depth?

None of us knows what problems we’ll have to face in the future, look what problems our country is facing at present!... but it is only natural to think like this! That the problem will go away.

Jesus believed in advancing, not retreating, his love was ACTIVE, not passive; he saw trouble and he resolutely rolled his sleeves up and got stuck in.

But he put it to them; his disciples; his future hands and feet and heart…his body

You give them something to eat! Jesus said to his disciples.

They said to him, ‘We have nothing except’…that’s when they did a stock take! And they found five loaves and two fish.

It was enough; they were obedient, they took what they had to Jesus, and he offered it up, and every need was met, with 12 basketfuls left over!

Let us too take stock, as the church of Christ, and seriously add up what we do have and have been blessed with, and offer it up in obedience to God who will meet all our needs in his service.