During Lent, we ‘re looking at the questions Jesus asked his followers, and we’re pondering how we would answer them. Today’s question comes from the feeding of the 5,000.
SCRIPTURE – Mark 6:30-44 – The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii[i] worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Questions Jesus Ask Sermon series
How Much Bread Do You Have?
I try to be a fairly optimistic person, but there are a few things in life that can bring me down in a heartbeat. Losing a basketball game on a last-second shot is one of those. So is knowing your baseball team is so bad that they have been eliminated from the playoffs before the season even starts. Watching it rain when the forecast called for sunny skies? Major bummer. A trivial thing that really sticks in my craw is when I go to make a sandwich and find all that’s left of the loaf are the heels. I’m all ready for a nice PB&J or a toasty BLT, and all I have to work with are two pieces of edible cardboard. I don’t like not having enough bread.
In our scripture passage today, Jesus has the same dilemma, but something tells me he’s concerned about more than just eating the heels. We continue our sermon series today on the questions that Jesus asked his listeners, and how they responded. So far, we’ve learned that, when Jesus asks a question, there’s usually more to it than what’s on the surface. Simple questions like “What are you looking for?” and “What is your name?” take on a whole new significance when Jesus is the one asking them. The same is true for our question today. Although the version we read has Jesus asking, “How many loaves have you?” that sounds too proper to me. So I’m going with my own version of Jesus’ question: “How much bread do you have?”
This miracle story is probably very familiar to you. It’s often invoked at church potlucks when more people show up than signed up. Someone will ask nervously, “Do we have enough food?” and another person will answer, “Loaves and fish.” Then, everyone nods in knowing agreement. “Yes, loaves and fish.” I’ve never been to a church potluck where we actually ran out of food. God provides. Loaves and fish.
Did you know this is the only miracle that’s told in all four gospels? Each gospel writer tells the story a little differently. For example, John has a young boy provide the loaves and fish for Jesus’ multiplication miracle. And Mark is the only gospel in which Jesus asks this question. But all four tell this story, which, for me, lends to its credibility. If all four tell us about it, then it probably happened.
Let’s the stage. Jesus has just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded by King Herod. He and his disciples go to a deserted place to rest and grieve this loss, and to get away from the crowds. Jesus is the only pastor I know who was constantly running away from his congregation. But the crowds are persistent, so they follow them, desperately seeking what Jesus had to offer. Despite his own personal suffering, he continues his teaching into the evening.
Finally, the disciples, who are worn out and weighted down with grief, say to Jesus, “Look, rabbi, you’re a really fantastic public speaker, but it’s getting late and these folks are getting hungry. Maybe it’s time to wrap it up.” Jesus responds, quite obtusely, “Well, you feed them,” to which the disciples understandably respond, “Say what? There’s got to be 5000 guys here, not including the women and children. It would take a year’s salary just to buy them bread.”
That’s why Jesus asks our question: “How much bread do you have? Go and see.” I like how the Message translation says it: “How many loaves of bread do you have? Go and take inventory.” They report back to Jesus they found five loaves and two fish, not nearly enough to feed the crowds.
That’s the answer the disciples gave, but I don’t think it was the answer Jesus was looking for. I don’t think he was looking for an actual number. I believe he was looking for an expression of trust. Instead of, “Five loaves and two fish,” I believe Jesus wanted to hear the disciples say, “Enough, Lord. We have enough.”
But that makes no sense, does it? Because it wasn’t enough. Not even close. Five loaves and two fish wouldn’t feed 50 people, let alone 5000. But the disciples forgot a crucial variable in this mathematical problem. They were trying to do multiplication without the X factor. In most cases, 2 x 2 = 4. But when you toss Jesus into the equation, the numbers don’t add up. Five loaves plus two fish times Jesus equals enough food for an arena of people, with 12 basketfuls left over. Just like a church potluck. “Loaves and fish.” “Yes, loaves and fish.”
It’s easy to blame the disciples for their doubt. Had they forgotten that their God worked with different kind of math? Had they forgotten that God rained manna from Heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness? Their God is a god who provides. Of course, that sounds good when you’re reading the story in a book, but it’s a different ballgame when there’s a hungry crowd pressing in and you barely have enough food for a sack lunch. It’s not enough, Jesus. It’s not enough.
We are all guilty of doing what the disciples are doing. They are operating from a theology of scarcity. When you do you this, no matter how much you have, you never think it’s enough. So you hold onto what you have, not sharing it with others, not meeting the needs of those around you. You always worry that you’ll only have the heels of the loaf or that your potluck will run out of food. And even when it doesn’t the first time, the second time, the tenth time, you’re just sure that NEXT time there won’t be enough.
What Jesus is doing with the disciples is teaching them to live with a theology of abundance. When you do this, your life is guided by trust and generosity, because you know that no matter how little you have, it will be enough. Living with a theology of abundance can be scary, but it can also be exhilarating, because it releases us from our dependence on possessions and frees us to add Jesus to the equation. I’ve read about and seen this at work, and it is absolutely one of the most powerful things to behold.
Here’s an example. The story goes that a young nun once had a crazy idea, so she approached her superiors and said, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.” Her superiors scoffed and said, “You can’t build an orphanage with three pennies. You can’t do anything with three pennies.” “I know,” said Mother Teresa with a smile, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.” That’s living with a theology of abundance.
Even when there is almost nothing to work with, a theology of abundance provides hope. In the movie, “Dumb and Dumber” – bet you didn’t expect to hear that in this morning’s sermon – Lloyd Christmas has a huge crush on Mary Swanson, so he takes a leap of faith and confesses his love to her, and asks what the odds are they can be together. Mary says, “Not good.” Lloyd tentatively asks, “You mean, like one in a hundred.” Mary responds, “More like one in a million.” Lloyd pauses for a second, then his face lights up and he says, “So you’re saying there’s a chance!” That’s living with a theology of abundance.
Last Sunday, one of our youngsters came up to me after church, waited until I had talked to everyone in line, and then handed me an envelope. She said with the most earnest look on her face, “Pastor Kory, please give this to the poor.” Inside the envelope was a crumpled-up dollar bill. Whatever we’re teaching back there in the Children’s Wing, we need to keep it up. That’s living with a theology of abundance.
You know, people have tried to explain away this miracle by saying that it wasn’t really a supernatural multiplication. They say what happened was that when the crowd saw the disciples were willing to share their food, they also took out what they had brought, and when everyone’s food was combined together, there was more than enough to go around. If that is how it actually happened, I would say that it was still a miracle. The fact that people were willing to open their hands and share their only sustenance for the well-being of others is pretty miraculous. It’s a theology of abundance, a belief that whatever we have is enough.
To be honest, I believe that is what actually happened. If Jesus wanted to multiply the loaves and the fish, he could have done it. If Jesus wanted to make the fish jump up and dance the jitterbug, he could have done it. But I believe Jesus didn’t want to just show people a miracle, like they were the audience at a magic show. I believe Jesus wanted to encourage people to participate in the miracle, to leave behind their shackles of “not enough,” to embrace the belief that when Jesus is involved, there’s always enough.
In this scenario, we are called to be part of the miracle, to participate in moving from scarcity to abundance. In order for God’s math to work in our lives, we have to be willing to give some things over. Jesus couldn’t have multiplied the bread and fish had they not been given into his hands to bless, break, and share. The disciples could have hoarded what they had, which would have ensured two things: (1) they would have had something to eat, and (2) no one else would have. I can’t guarantee that God will always fix things the way we want them. But I can guarantee that God can’t work with what we’re not willing to give.
How much bread do you have? Could be a whole pantry full of loaves, or it could just be the heels. I mean, really look around at what you have. Then, do two things: (1) give thanks for it, and (2) figure out how to share it with others. I don’t know how much bread you have, but I bet it’s an abundance. And yet, in this local and global potluck in which we leave, there are people who don’t even have the heels. What are we doing to do it about? Are we going to hold on to what we have? Or are we going to open our hands so it can be, taken, blessed, broken, and shared? Is there enough for everyone? Loaves and fish. Yes, loaves and fish.