“Feeding the Hungry.”
John 6: 1-21, July 25th, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear again this lesson from the gospel according to John, verses one thru sixteen.”
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
“Having heard the miraculous event of Jesus feeding the crowd, let us carefully consider the response from those gathered that day. Let us ask ourselves, ‘would we, would you or I response in like manner?’”
“Feeding the Hungry.”
I have always been fascinated with this passage of scripture. The miracle of Jesus feeding that large crowd that was recorded as at least five thousand. Perhaps a great many more than just five thousand, as scholars speculate that they did not count the women and children. Which is possibly correct as in that time in history men where in dominance and women had few rights, thus were not often counted. The truly fascinating point of the passage is that there are so many plausible possibilities as to ‘how’ Jesus feed the crowd. Is the accounting ‘literally’ accurate and the food simply multiplied as it was passed around within the crowd while in the twelve baskets? Or perhaps there were a great many, like the boy that day, whom had two dried fish and five barley loaves of bread. And after Jesus lifted-up the generous donation, which the boy offered, and after Jesus had blessed it, the heart of a great many gathered were opened – and they also shared their packed lunches that they also carried with them! Either way it was a great miracle! Being an ordained pastor for over twenty-six years now, I realize how mystical and miraculous it still is for people to open-up their own food supplies and donate it to the hungry. Thankfully, we know how crucial such miracles are in this time in history!
What many theologians strive to do, at a moment such as this, is to see if any of you can identify with any of the characters in our passage. Janet H. Hunt, a theologian and author, asks us about how we relate to this passage. “Who do you relate to in this story? Philip? Andrew? The boy? Someone in the crowd? How does where you enter the story impact your understanding of the meaning of Jesus feeding the 5,000?” Each aspect of her questions open-up a new thought. Philip, the practical one wanted to be sure Jesus understood how far from town they were, as that is the place in which they could have purchased food that day. He also stressed how expensive that would be when Jesus expressed interest in how and where they could get food. “When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus said this to test Philip, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered Jesus, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” /John 67: 5-7/ Yet it was Andrew who first turned to the crowd looking for a solution. ‘One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Jesus, (seemingly without being asked) “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”’ /John 6: 8 & 9/
So where might we find ourselves in this lesson? We do still need to decide where in the story we are. As a youngster, if I were listening to the story, I would want to be at the center of it all, thus I would want to be the boy, the lad that offers up his lunch, which was packed for me when I headed out that morning. How glorious it would be to think that Jesus blesses my lunch and then feeds it to the people. As the boy I would be pretty darn proud that my food was chosen to a part of a miracle performed by Jesus! Wouldn’t you feel the same? Or I could get all excited and see Jesus as the teacher, the Pastor, thereby using this opportunity to teach a lesson to those gathered. The power of God’s love… mystically having the food multiply… once it is blessed and placed in the basket. And the hearts of those gathered are opened to the example of the boy who shared all he had so that others might be fed. Being either the lad or the pastor in the story would allow me to be a ‘conduit’ of God’s mystical powers! There are a great many within this congregation, within this faith fellowship who could and do fill these roles on a regular basis. Each one of you who donate food or give of your time or talents to help facilitate feeding others, puts you in the story. If you related to Philip and were considering how you might help fund a needed enterprise, you are here too! If you are the one who is always trying to convince someone how they can make a difference by their small offerings, there is room for you in this dialog; you are much like Andrew. All of us are in this crowd gathered, is some way.
Most of us know what it means to be hungry… it happens every day! If you had traveled a great distance and supplies were running short, as probably not everyone had as much quantity as the young lad did, you would want to be fed. You would be hungry and thirsty as well! Surely, we all could identify with part of the crowd. After traveling a long way to hear and see someone or something spectacular based on what others had said. In this case Jesus was known to be a healer and a storyteller. He was clearly charismatic as he drew the crowds and once, they heard Jesus, they wanted more and more from him! Yes, they were hungry and thirst for food and water, just as we would be, if we were there that day. But they did not travel just to get nourishment for their bodies, they wanted something else. They wanted some of that spiritual food he offered. You do realize that food often is administered and spoken of abstractly, as in a spiritual way? People hunger and thirst for nourishment for their spirits and their souls as often as they crave food for their bodies. Which did the crowd gather for as they followed Jesus out into the countryside; so far out it would take hours to get back to town to buy or fix lunch? Surely, they came for the spiritual nourishment for their very souls; their spirits needed an uplift after being oppressed for so, so long! The food and water for their bodies was just an afterthought which Jesus uses to, once again, offer new hope to a people who had lost hope!
If you are a literalist, you may still be reeling with my suggestion that there are at least two possible ways the people were all fed the food they needed. And perhaps, you think that it is ridiculous that Jesus could or would have unhardened the hearts of the crowd, enough to cause them to give up their own packed lunches, to be sure all had plenty to eat. Well, before you reject this as a plausible possibility let me offer this thought. Consider this: ‘Try retelling this story, as written, to someone you know. Be sure to tell them all the details, as they in turn will be instructed to tell the account of the passage to another.’ Do this for about thirty years, and then check back in with me, if I am still here, and let us compare notes. Did any of the details change? It may be a shock for you to hear this, but there is no record of this lesson being documented or written down until Jesus has been crucified by the Romans for thirty years. Is it not plausible that some of the details of the story may have gotten distorted or left out during such a long thirty-year oral tradition? And please tell me the last time you were on a bus or a train or at the beach and someone started passing out their lunch and/or sharing their bottles of cold drinks to all the strangers around them! I must agree with your silent answers: “Now that would be very special indeed, perhaps a miracle even!” Whatever way we reflect on this lesson, it always comes out that Jesus performed a miracle that day. No one went back to town and shelled out six months wages to buy food for the crowd. The absolute truth is Jesus caused the people to be fed, fed until they were full! That is a miracle!
Even as we ponder this miracle story, the additional verses which take us to the sea to Capernaum, we hear of yet another miracle – Jesus, walking on water! What are we to make of all this!? First, let us consider what the crowd did after being fed! “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” /John 6: 15/ Then the disciples head out upon the sea, to cross over to the other side. (The scripture does not clarify the details any further.) Apparently, they were far, far from shore and Jesus appears to them as he walks on the water to join them! As soon as they see him, the rough water caused by the wind is calmed, they then are suddenly on land at the other side! The combination of these two accounts linked together can only leave us as astonished as the disciples must have been. The feeding of the large crowd was surely a miracle event. It is no wonder the people wanted to make Jesus the king! Then the disciples seeing Jesus out on a ‘rough wind driven sea’ and walking on the water! This too – uplifts who Jesus was believed to be. As the disciples were far from the crowd, this line of scripture comes from accounts from the disciples themselves. Perhaps they recounted this event after his resurrection as they tried to make sense of it all.
Whatever the details were, something mystical happened when Jesus blessed the five barley loves and the two dried fish; thousands perhaps retold the story of that day over, and over again. Likewise, something mystical happened upon the sea as it is the disciples who report that Jesus walked on water and calmed the sea! They kept these events alive by retelling the stories over, and over again. And after much time had passed, they wrote this all down, so that we too… we would come to believe. “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” /John 20:30 & 31/