Love sees you: so testify to Love. In these weeks before Easter, we are looking at encounters with Jesus from the Gospels. These encounters help us to understand that Jesus came to show us we are loved.
Our second encounter with Jesus is the well-known story of feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. All 4 Gospel writers include this story—Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. This is the only miracle story that is told in all four Gospels.
After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews.
When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" He said this to stretch Philip's faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered, "Two hundred silver pieces wouldn't be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece."
One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, "There's a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this."
Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.
When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted." They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves. The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, "This is the Prophet for sure, God's Prophet right here in Galilee!"
I “googled” loaves and fishes and found that there are 791,000 internet sites that use that phrase. What do you suppose most of the sites are about? Feeding people…food pantries, soup kitchens, all that kind of ministry. Even people who don’t know much about the Bible know about the loaves and fishes. Most people also know this story as one of the miracles attributed to Jesus.
What do the miracles of Jesus have to do with us? Miracles are amazing, but we don’t put much emphasis on them today, in part, because we don’t believe we can do the things Jesus did. So the story becomes a nice story about Jesus, who was so much more than we can ever hope to be.
The Episcopal preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, has a problem with miracles that “mesmerize” us and lead us to leave everything up to God. “Miracles,” she writes, “let us off the hook. They appeal to the part of us that is all too happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, do it all.” I admit that there are times I’ve felt that way about Jesus and his miracles…I can’t do what Jesus did, this Jesus who takes nothing and makes something. And I believe Jesus does that, not just with loaves and fishes, but with our lives over and over again.
As John tells the story, Jesus came to reveal God’s essential character as love. “For God so loved the world” John tells us. Unlike the gods of Rome, John tells us God is accessible and available to the people. John wants the people to know God through Jesus. What is God like? God, seen through Jesus, is compassionate and full of love. Jesus invites people to experience God and to know life in God as a life of abundance.
The persistent worldview we encounter is that of scarcity, not abundance. Yet, the story of loaves and fishes tells us that “all ate as much as they wanted”…and it began with 5 loaves and 2 fish. If all this story offers is magic, then it has nothing to do with our lives. Magic is not going to solve the problems. But if this story is about small things that matter, then each of us is a little boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish that will feed people who are hungry.
David Whyte’s poem tells us even one good word is bread for a thousand.
There are times in my life when I feel like I’ve got nothing to give. There’s no gas in my tank. No food in my fridge. I’ve got nothing left to say. When I feel this way, my life doesn’t stop. My to-do list looks like 5,000 hungry people. At such moments of emotional scarcity, this story reminds me that the ministry to which I am called pivots not on how much I have or what I can give, but rather on how much God gives by multiplying what I have.
The church gets like that, too. Most folks in churches would say their church "needs" more money, more members, more "help." Our perception is one of scarcity, not plenty, even when we truly desire to act compassionately. But if we give whatever we have, together those little bits, the 5 loaves and 2 fish, will feed a multitude.
Jesus asks us to give even what we think is nothing, 5 loaves and 2 fish, and then to learn the alternative of a different kind of economy - what Jesus calls God’s kingdom - an economy grown by God’s abundance.
Anthony Robinson says, “Who among us has not found ourselves facing a hunger that scared us because our resources seemed so paltry. Give what you have to Jesus. Place it in his service. He will bless it and break it and make it enough, and more than enough - remember the leftovers. Where Jesus is, there is abundance. But there's a hitch. We aren't just by-standers. We are participants in the miracle. No participation, no miracle. Don't just wait for the miracle, participate in one instead!”
Small things matter—5 loaves and 2 fish. We may be a small congregation, but we have an abundance of God’s gifts and blessings. Many of us have experienced the hunger of loneliness, the hunger of being denied a place at the table, the hunger of being told you can’t be a Christian because you are gay, hunger in all its shapes. “Blessed are you, shaking your head at two tiny fish and some bread. Tell me your story, show me your wounds. And I’ll show you what Love sees when Love sees you.”
Love that feeds hungry crowds cannot be explained. Love that turns no one away cannot be explained. Love that causes one to sacrifice oneself for the sake of another cannot be explained. Mother Theresa said, “If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” Small things matter. Let’s testify to love with our 5 loaves and 2 fish and participate in the miracle.