Grace Presbyterian Church
July 26, 2015, Ordinary 17B
Plenty of Bread
This is an awfully familiar story, isn’t it?
Really, I imagine most of us could come up with the key details of the story before it was even read: the big crowd of five thousand, five loaves and two fish, twelve baskets left over. The only thing missing is the boy with the loaves and fish, which Mark doesn’t include in his account – he shows up in the Gospel of John.
In wrestling with a sermon for this text I was reminded of an old folk tale, which I remember from a children’s book from lo, those many years ago when I was a child, called Stone Soup. In that book’s version of the story, a couple of soldiers arrive in a village with nothing to eat. The villagers are unwilling to help out. Undaunted, the soldiers produce a pot and gather up stones, announcing their plan to make stone soup. Curious villagers look in, and when one of the soldiers suggests that some carrots, or onions, or other small additions would make the soup so much better, first one, then another, and then another villager decides that they can spare those vegetables, so that finally the entire village is able to enjoy a nice filling kettle of soup together.
That’s not how this story goes, of course, although the occasional scholar with a problem with miracles suggests that something like this is what “really happened.” But Mark is quite clear; this crowd is fed with five loaves, and two fish. That’s all. Jesus has the disciples seat the crowd; he distributes bread and fish for the disciples to give to the crowd; and this keeps happening until the crowd is filled, and twelve baskets of fragments are gathered up afterwards.
It’s the Gospel of Luke that is most prolific about stories of feedings or meals or bread broken and shared, but Mark isn’t too shabby about sharing such stories. We have seen meals interrupted by the crowds pressing in on Jesus or by pestiferous Pharisees, and now we get the biggest “food story” of the Gospels, one that all four tell in one way or another.
Maybe this isn’t an accident. The sharing of meals seems to be an attractive setting for humans to use for telling stories to one another. Think, for example, of the number of movies that include food or the sharing of meals as a major framework; Babette’s Feast. Chocolat. Soul Food. My personal favorite is a little movie called Big Night, about two Italian immigrant brothers throwing a great feast in attempt to save their struggling restaurant. If movies aren’t your thing, consider how many episodes of your favorite television shows involve the family around the dinner table. Or consider how many pieces of art picture food or meals.
Or consider, say, big holiday dinners at your house, or someone in your family’s house. How often does most of the best conversation (or worst, sometimes) happens around the dinner table, or even in the kitchen while the meal is being prepared? The table is one of the places where we humans connect the most, share the most, relate to each other the most directly and most honestly.
With that in mind, you have to wonder how the folks in this crowd remembered this great sharing of bread and fish after it was over. Did they even realize what had happened? Were they aware how little food had been turned into how much? It’s not as if Jesus said anything about it, or the disciples. Maybe as far as they ever knew, they spent the day listening to Jesus teach and then had a little bread and fish and were on their way.
In fact, they probably weren’t expecting it at all. After all, in Mark’s account, it wasn’t the crowd who got antsy and hungry, nor was it Jesus who suddenly decided it was time for a dinner break. It was the disciples, getting antsy about the crowd, who raised the question to Jesus.
There does seem to be something worth considering here. Jesus was, out of his compassion for the crowds as we heard last week, expressing his compassion by starting to “teach them many things.” The crowds, for their part, seemed to be fully content with the teaching; there’s no indication they were clamoring for food. The disciples, though, were distracted and getting anxious.
Maybe there are times we need to take our cue not from the disciples, but from the crowd.
Goodness knows there is a lot to get done, whether we’re speaking of this church individually or the larger church in the larger world. And goodness knows we are short of hands to do the work. Some of those who claim the name “Christian” seem to have other agendas than doing Christ’s work in God’s world, and some have frankly gotten tired and given up and walked away. There’s no doubt we could use more able hands to be about our work, whether it be with Family Promise or St. Francis or Gainesville Community Ministry or any of the other works we seek to help.
But at the same time, we can’t forget that there are times we just have to stop and listen. We have to stop and be fed. We need to step away from the busy-ness and listen to Jesus teach us. Like the story of Mary and Martha, when the former sat at Jesus’s feet while the latter let herself get caught up in the busy-ness of being host, this story reminds us that sometimes it is our role to be nothing more than Jesus’s guest.
I wasn’t kidding earlier; we need folks to help with Family Promise next month. But don’t forget that even amidst the work and need, it’s not just a politeness; it’s an absolute necessity for your spiritual health to, at some times, stop, listen to the words of Jesus, and be fed by Jesus. And this is something the crowd recognized that day. And they didn’t end up starving for it.
What it looks like today to be taught and fed by Jesus obviously isn’t quite the same as it was in this story. It may be time reading and meditating on the scriptures. It may be seeking out your Sunday School class or a Bible study or other class we’ll do this fall. It might be joining the choir and being ministered to by the act of making music in worship of God. It might be a vacation you haven’t taken in years. Maybe it’s getting one of these hymnals and drinking in both old favorites and new songs.
But somewhere along the way, there comes a time where you have to, for your own sake and for the sake of those who care for you and rely on you, sit down and be taught and fed by Jesus.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly (509)
Gracious Spirit, Heed Our Pleading (287)
One Bread, One Body (530)
Sometimes A Light Surprises (800)
Come! Live In the Light! (749)
Loaves Were Broken, Words Were Spoken (498)
His Eye Is On the Sparrow (661)