Lent 4 2010

John 6:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The boy has five loaves of bread and two fish. That is a not an insignificant amount. It is grocery sack full of food. Think of how many peanut butter sandwiches you can make with five loaves of bread. It was certainly more than enough for him and his family. Still, what is that among so many? He has plenty of food for 30 or 40 people, but there are 5000 men plus women and children.

Of course, it is a child, not an adult, that shows up with the food. The Lord is into children. And, of course, the food is not pomegranates or figs, mutton or beef, but bread and fish. The Lord is into bread and fish. It could have been shelter or clothing that they needed, but it is food, because the Lord is into feeding.

But how does Andrew know the exact contents of the boy’s grocery sack? Has he been out looking for food already, taking a survey, making a list? And what do they do with the leftovers? Does the boy get them, at least five loaves worth?

Some liberal scholars have read this as a miracle of sharing. It is not that Our Lord multiplied the bread and fish, but rather that the people saw the boy’s generosity and were so moved by it that they all started pulling out the food they had hidden away and kept for themselves and learned to share. But if that were the case, and this is no miracle at all, despite the fact that it is called a sign by St. John, then why are they given as much bread and fish as they want? That is not the way to share. If the message here is that we should all share resources and stop hoarding, so that no one is rich and no one is poor, then it is a fable meant to teach constraint and moderation, maybe even self-sacrifice. But this is described as a feast. Each has much as he wants, and there are leftovers behind what can be contained. Sharing doesn’t make a feast.

The liberals are, however, on to something. The Lord does use bread from creation, from a boy, to feed all the people there, even the evil people. He does not provide there in the same fashion that He provided for the Israelites in the desert. In this case, He does not create from nothing, but He multiplies what is there. It is sort of a cross between the widow’s oil with Elijah and the Mannah in the desert with Moses, both of whom, coincidentally, show up at the Transfiguration. John reports that when Jesus asked Philip what to do, that He Himself knew what He would do. That certainly means that the Lord was not in doubt about the fate of these people. He knew He would provide. I am not so sure it has to mean that He knew about the boy’s bread and fish. I suspect that He proceeds as a reaction to what the disciples say and do. Andrew has found some bread, but is in despair. “What is it among so many?” he asks.  So the Lord shows Him what it is among so many. By grace, it is plenty, more than enough, a feast with leftovers.

Here is the point. The boy is a sort of allegory for the Christian who brings his offerings to God. The apostles are a sort of allegory or type for the ministers. The Lord is not exactly showing us to share, but He is showing us that we have a part of His kingdom, that He includes us, that He blesses and uses the works of our hands, that our good works are in fact good and by them He provides for the world, for church and for neighbor. He knows what He is going to do. He is going to feed the people. Depending on what the disciples say and do, what the people give or hold, will determine how He feeds the people.

If there is a stewardship lesson here it is not that if we do not share and cooperate we will starve. Neither is it that the Lord will multiply whatever we give back unto us, so that if you give a dollar you will get ten back or at least get ten dollars worth of blessing. As far as we know, the boy went home without any leftovers. He gave away his bread and fish and though he got enough to eat, got nothing else. If there is a stewardship lesson here it is that the dollar you give in faith, out of love for neighbor, will do more good given than it will in your pocket, and that what you do for and in the kingdom God will multiply and bless.

But more significantly, in terms of stewardship, the reality is that the Lord gives you a choice and freedom in these things. The crowd isn’t lectured about sharing or preparing. No wild promises are made about how their lives will go if they only behave better and give more. The boy simply moves out of love, in freedom, because he wants to, and the Lord blesses it, multiplies it, and provides for thousands. The boy, though unnamed and mainly without honor for his gift in this life, played a most significant part, more significant, to be sure, than the apostles.

Your part in God’s Kingdom is also significant. Your service to neighbor, in family, state, and church, is seen and blessed by God. He multiplies your prayers, efforts, and gifts in order to provide for His children.

But that is not the main thing here anyway. This miracle, like all the miracles, is Eucharistic. We pray for daily bread not to remind God we need it, but that He would lead us to realize that He is the Giver and that we would receive it with thanksgiving. Apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there would be no mercy and no providence, no bread for hungry people. It is only because the Father has reconciled us to Himself in the Son and declared us righteous that He loves us and anyone, believer or not, has anything close to what is necessary for this body and life. The Lord never just gives bread. That is why bread brings  pleasure. Bread is not simply vitamins and nutrients, it is food. Even as flowers and the landscape display beauty and words bring not just knowledge but also laughter, so food is more than simple practicality, base necessity. Food is more. It is fellowship and pleasure. The Lord doesn’t only provide there on the mountain for the hungry, He also also provides for Himself. He joins them. He who did not eat when the devil tempted him with bread in the desert eats bread with sinners in the desert whom He has declared clean for Himself.

If there is some stewardship stuff, some vocational examples, mixed into all this, that should be no surprise.  Because that is simply who God’s people are and when the Scriptures speak of them they show them that way. But the real thing here is that the Lord loves, welcomes, feeds, and eats with sinners. And as He did then, so He does now, and so He will do forever.

It doesn’t matter so much how the bread and wine got here today, who paid for it, who prepared it, and so forth, but some of you gathered here today are responsible for it, you did it, and others just showed up. Some of you are only here because daily savings time caused you to miss your normal service. What matters is that the Lord provides. He knows what He will do. He has gathered us for Himself. He will feed us with His Body and Blood and thereby bestow His forgiveness and blessing upon us.

Thus do we have joy and a feast in the midst of the fast.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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