If you were to make a list of Jesus’ miracles, I would guess that this morning’s Gospel story would appear on most of your lists. And that makes sense in that this story is the only miracle story found in all four Gospel: the story often called, “The Miraculous feeding.” Five loaves of bread and two fish came from a young boy in the crowd who for some reason had brought bread and fish with him and made them available to Jesus’ disciples.
And it is the miraculous nature of this story that gets the most attention. “Wow! Look what Jesus did. I can’t do that. It’s a miracle.” Miracles are uncommon, extraordinary events that far surpass our human or natural abilities. Miracles are the work of God. They are something beyond what is normal or attainable by average people like you and me. And so the story of Jesus miraculously feeding 5000 people is seen as something beyond our grasp, something far removed from normal human experience.
But I would like to suggest that this story of Jesus feeding the masses, is, in fact, about the most common of human experience. It is primarily about our human need to eat. And what can be more common, more normal, more routinely a part of life, than eating.
Human life is totally dependent on a couple of things. When a baby is born, the first thing it does to transition into life as we know it, is to breath. But once that first breath of air is taken, the attention turns to getting nourishment into the baby. The attention turns to eating. And those first two accomplishment remain the most basic sustaining activities of life: breathing, and eating. Every day we must breath. In fact, many times every minute we must breath. And every day, we eat. Our daily schedules are built around setting aside several times every day, to eat. It’s how we get our energy. Eating nourishes us. Eating sustains us. Eating keeps us alive.
So as we look for a meaning to this story of Jesus feeding 5000 people, it is the most basic of human needs, –the need to eat,– that is at the heart of the story. And I would suggest that that is more important to the purpose of the story than the miraculous nature of the event. Life is possible only if we eat. And God feeds us. This Gospel story is about the most basic level of God’s consistent love and care for us.
5000 people were clamoring to be close to Jesus, and he cared for their most basic need to eat food. The details are miraculous, to be sure, and I make no attempt to explain the miracle beyond what it says: Jesus provided food for all the people. And when all the left-overs are picked up, they filled 12 baskets with food.
My friends, while there are many questions that intrigue us about this kind of a miracle, the meaning is really rather straight forward. God provides. It’s as simple as that. God provides us with what we need. God does not ‘sometimes’ provide us with what we need if he gets around to it. God provides us with what we need! Period.
We need food, and from the bounty of the earth, more than enough food is produced to feed us all. The fact that people die every minute from starvation is not an indication of God not providing, but instead shows our human unwillingness to distribute the food the earth provides. God knows we need shelter and clothing, and there is more than enough available.
But I would like to go back to the birthing metaphor I started earlier. Back to the first thing a baby must do in order to make the transition from life in the womb, where it is literally its mother that feeds and breathes for it.
As I said earlier, when a baby is born, the very first thing the baby has to learn to do, on its own, is – BREATH. The breath of life: begins immediately. Here’s a linguistic point of insight from scripture that I find very meaningful as I read the Bible. The Bible was written originally in Hebrew – Old Testament, and Greek, – New Testament. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for breath – this first thing we do when we enter this world, – is also the word for Spirit; for the Holy Spirit of God.
As important as food is to nurture and sustain life, as important as breathing is to life, living in communion with God’s Spirit, living in communion with the Holy Spirit, is a vital part of embracing a full and meaningful life.
The fact that so many people are lonely, the fact that we live in a world that sees so much anti-social activity, the fact that people are so afraid, and can be so hurtful to one another is not a failure on God’s part. It simply indicates how many people may be alive because they are eating and breathing, but they are, really, just the walking dead, because there is no godly spirit in them.
One of my favorite chapters in the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament is the 37th chapter of Ezekiel where the prophet Ezekiel has a vision of a valley of dry bones. So let me add yet another metaphor to this feeding story: Ezekiel writes:
“Suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone. And then sinews and flesh came upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.”
There was no spirit in them.
And then it ends with this promise:
“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.”
That’s what this feeding miracle is about: Jesus feeding both the body and the Spirit. This is a story about the predictable presence of God’s grace that keeps abundantly giving us what we need to live.
And a part of God’s plan of distribution includes us. Gather up the leftovers, “so that nothing may be lost.” What did they do with those leftovers? Well, the story doesn’t say, but I don’t think it has to said. All I can imagine is that those 5000 people, went from that place and they shared from what they had received. It’s pretty clear, that the number: 12 baskets of food is symbolic of a bountiful gift that is there for everyone. As each of those people were fed physically, and as each of those people were fed spiritually as Jesus taught, and preached and healed, they were now being sent out to a spiritually hungry, physically hungry world.
Once again this morning, we gather around the table to eat to be fed spiritually from God’s real presence. We are called to the table to receive God’s grace. And then, we are sent from God’s table to be distributors of God’s grace. Every day is filled with opportunities to be distributors of God’s grace. There are important programs of feeding, Loaves and Fishes, Dinner at your Door, STEP. Thank you for your faithful support of all of these.
But just as every day sees us needing to breath, and eat, every day God places before us, people who we can feed spiritually, people who we can greet with a godly spirit of love, joy, patience, hope, gentleness, forgiveness.
So as you look to come to the Lord’s table, BREATH. Be aware of your breathing. Feel each breath you take. And imagine each breath as breathing in the presence of God’s Spirit, that walks with you wherever you go. Breath in God’s grace, and at the Lord’s table, and receive God’s nourishment; receiving the promise of God’s grace and blessing, and having again been fed, leave this place, and enter your place of ministry.