My dad tells stories about Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and Easter at his grandmother’s house. His grandfather was a baker, and cooking was an extreme sport when it came to feeding the whole family. There were four children and their spouses, seven grandchildren and their significant others, and a growing brood of great grandchildren. And while the food was magical, there was a problem.
The kitchen table just wasn’t big enough.
So there was a young couples table, a kids’ table, a table for the babies, and everyone else had to fend for themselves in the living room or on the stairs. Sure, there was a serving table where all of the food was in the kitchen. But the table itself was extended throughout the house, from room to room, so that not everyone could see each other but they were all eating the same thing. They were all part of the same family. They were all in it together.
In our story today, there’s no table at all! But all of those who have gathered around Jesus to be healed, to bring others for healing, to hear him preach, whatever their reason, are gathered there in the middle of nowhere.
Jesus uses this moment to see what his disciples are made of, and he asks, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Now, it’s curious because he asks Philip, not Judas Iscariot who was the treasurer, how they will handle this. Jesus asks a question without making it financial; he’s asking where they could find that much bread!
Still, Jesus gets a financial answer. “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Philip replies.
All of the disciples working together for half a year could barely cover a nibble of bread per person is the essence of it. But another disciples, Andrew, heard the question differently, and points to the boy with the wise mother, who’d packed him a lunch.
Again, the answer is still limited by space and size and normal, conventional decision-making things. “How far will it go with so many people here?”
In essence, the disciples are trying to figure out a way to make the problem go away. They’re trying to figure out how they might limit who gets some, or who they would be responsible for. They don’t see a spiritual situation here, but a logistical one.
Jesus is, as we’ve come to expect, operating on a different level. He tells the disciples to have everyone sit down, he prays to God for what has been given to them, and he distributes to those around as much as they wanted.
Jesus doesn’t distinguish between man, woman, or child. He doesn’t ask where they’re from or why they came or what their intentions are. He just feeds them.
Of course, reading the story, we know that there is enough to feed even more people than were there, and that Jesus’ point is that they shouldn’t waste anything. And there’s that moment when the crowd wants to coronate him because even they can see what happened… and he wants nothing to do with their praise.
Quick recap: There’s a problem with feeding. Jesus praises God for what they do have. And there’s enough.
Sure, there’s a tendency to bang on the disciples for ‘not having faith’ or ‘not getting it.’ But what about the responsibility we can see here for Jesus to say that all of the preaching in the world doesn’t feed a person? Or that even though those people came to hear him unprepared, and that’s their decision, that it was their job (Jesus and the disciples) to feed them?
What happens if we recognize that while we’re supposed to preach and teach and share and invite and serve, that when it comes down to the basic needs of people, that Jesus thinks the disciples, and by extension, us, should be doing something about it?
On a day when we’re having an event to raise money and awareness for hunger, I’m reminded that safe, saccharine feeding fundraisers aren’t enough. We need to recognize that what we have is God’s and it’s for us to use it for God’s glory. We need to recognize that if others are hungry then we can’t really be “full.” That if there’s not a place at the table here for everyone, then it’s not really God’s table!
Remember how my great grandmother’s house had an “extended table?” Maybe some of you had one, too. But consider the Lord’s Table, the table set by Jesus for his disciples at the Last Supper and shared with everyone by his death and resurrection.
In our Methodist communion liturgy, we say:
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Every time Jesus fed someone, he gave thanks to God. He asked God to be present. He shared in communion in spirit with God and those who he was feeding, and extended the heavenly table out through himself. But it’s not a finite table. It’s an everlasting table, a sharing in the kingdom of God in the world.
Some days, I wonder why God put me here. I wonder if I’m doing enough. I wonder if we’re doing enough as a church. We’ve been reading Mike Slaughter’s Dare to Dream, in which he encourages us to have a BHAG- Big Hairy Audacious Goal/God-Dream. I wonder what it would look like to live into a dream where we ended hunger in our community.
Where there were no hungry people in our county.
Sounds crazy. And I mean, “we’re not social services.”
But was it crazy for five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people? Especially when you consider by Bible math, that five thousand was probably just the men? Let’s say 15,000 people, just for fun, were fed by five loaves and two fish?
Can hunger be ended in one county, by the extension of the Lord’s Table through mission into the world? Sounds less crazy now, doesn’t it?
I dare you to dream a God-sized dream about love, and hope, and ending suffering. Maybe we’ll feed 5,000 people. Maybe we’ll feed 500. But it’s not ours to decide who gets feed, only that we apply ourselves to serving those who are hungry.
Are you ready to get fed as we come to the table? May the bread we break and the juice we pour be multiplied like loaves and fishes until it is so much more. Amen.