Eighth Sunday of Trinity
Readings: 2 Kings, 4, 42-end. Psalm 14510-19. Ephesians 3, 14-end. John 6, 1-21
Hymns: In Christ there is no East or West: Jesus Lord we look to thee; Strengthen for service, Christ is the heavenly food
Some of us may have bright memories of filling in Sunday School pictures of the miracle of five loaves and two fishes feeding everyone, with twelve baskets to spare. And indeed the five thousand men together with the many uncounted women and children would have been glad to be fed, for they have trailed after Jesus up hill and down dale. Both these facts are important: no one should starve if any person has the capacity to provide food, and Jesus’s action was indeed a miracle, for even if Jesus or his various followers could have found the €20K year’s wages Philip estimated they’d need to feed all those people, there were no bakers, no flour, no ovens.
But this story isn’t just about the important social justice of sharing food, and the miraculous power of Jesus, though it is both of those things. So what is Jesus telling us which is so important that all four gospel writers describe it in the only description of a miracle common to the four? Mark even pops an almost identical mass-feeding miracle a page or two later, and his second story, the feeding of the four thousand, comes just after the Samaritan woman challenged Jesus to change his initial and rather disparaging response to her request he heal her daughter, for she was an alien, not one of God’s chosen. In Mark’s first story, the word used for ‘basket’ is that used by observant Jews to keep kashrut-prepared food for a journey, but the word in Mark’s second story just means basket for carrying anything, from wood to Paul being let down from prison.
But this story is not just about a mass of people, but a mixed-up mass: anyone and everyone. That’s important, so we’ll come back to it later. And what is also important is that Jesus knew both that people would assemble and how they would be fed: when the closest parallel to Jesus in the Hebrew Bible, Moses, went up a mountain, as Jesus did, Moses didn’t know what God would do, but had to ask, and was given both the commandments for God’s chosen people and further instructions. In our first reading, Elisha satisfied all whom he was teaching not only with his words, but the big round loaves of the new harvest after the hard months before the new harvest when belts were tight. He did not do a miracle but, following the way of Moses, Elisha’s act illustrates Psalm 132 ‘the Lord has chosen Zion…and will abundantly bless her provisions and satisfy the poor with bread,’ or today’s psalm, ‘The eyes of all look to you, Lord, and you give them food in due season.’ By the time we get to this story of God’s chosen people in 2 Kings, that first intimate relationship with God, exemplified by Moses in the Pentateuch, is wavering, faltering, even failing: Elisha revives them body and soul.
Jesus saw, or used, this ‘feeding event’ as a crucial ‘showing’ of himself, God’s Son sent by God, to everyone there and he knew, this first major showing being in the north, that those assembled would be mixed, for this was an area of Jews and Samaritans, Greeks and Phoenicians. This was thus his meticulously played-out demonstration not only of his relation to the prophets of old, especially the great Moses, but his relationship with God. When those who had been fed saw the crumbs put into twelve baskets, they said not; ‘goodness, what a lot is left,’ which would have been a perfectly reasonable response but: ‘this is indeed the prophet – the messiah- who is to come into the world.’ They would know they did not themselves represent the twelve tribes indicated by the baskets for, unlike them, the tribes were all Jewish. No, they realised that this man was giving new bread to a newly chosen multi-ethnic people whom he would lead, they expected, like a shepherd, as we heard last week, or like a mighty King of a splendid Kingdom, making known to all people his might deeds.
Now Jesus knew from experience that however clear his miracle had been, the disciples, never mind the crowd, would not get it first time, even though in eating the food of God in the sharing of the bread, they were all on the journey. And it was equally clear to him that if the crowds publically acclaimed him as the Messiah at that point, opposition would prevent him completing his work. He therefore withdrew from everyone, crowds and disciples alike, demonstrating the radical difference between Moses and himself, between the great Prophet and the Son of God. As his followers were rowing wearily home, he walked on the water, further underlining for the challenged the difference between a Moses and God in human form.
In finishing, let me return to those works of God in Jesus represented in the two baskets, the first, restricted to people chosen by category, and those for all who wish to be counted, one by one. What does receiving the works of God mean now? A placid sleep on a Sunday afternoon? A place safely booked in heaven? No! It is being open to what God is doing and does in our lives and in the world. It is being open to acknowledging God as Parent, being empowered through the Spirit, and knowing Christ in our heart, however we each understand that. Receiving the works of God means being grounded in God’s love, not a cosy sentimental love, but inspiring, invigorating, consoling, embracing love, coming from and witnessing to our faith as we reach out to all.
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
Heidelberg, July 26th 2015.