Sunday, July 25, 2021
Jesus feeds us in many ways
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy RTX 77493
Feeding of the 5000 in John
Today’s account of the feeding of the 5000 is in every gospel. In fact, even though we are in the year of Mark we switch to the account from John because there are some important differences from the other three gospels. That all four tell the same story, although each version is unique, tells us that this event, this miracle/sign was of great importance to all four communities that produced gospels.
This is John’s gospel so the theology especially about the nature of Jesus has had about 70+ years to develop. In John, Jesus is always completely in charge and knows exactly who he is. Only in John does he turns to Andrew and asks him. “what are you going to do?”, and then John adds, “for he already knew what he was planning.” John tells us that Jesus already knows what he “planned” but he wants to see what the boys will do about this problem. John’s gospel is also one that is filled with symbols that point to the nature of Jesus.
This is a great story with which to do an Ignatian meditation. I read this story and tried to imagine myself there. The last time I had done this with this passage I found myself as Andrew, stumped by Jesus as to what I was going to do to feed all these people. This time however I found myself just a person in the crowd, but close to where Jesus and the disciples were.
As I sat and meditated on this story the image of Jesus distributing the bread and fish kept coming into my mind. The gospel clearly states that he is the one who walked through the crowd not the disciples. This is unique in the various gospels. In the accounts in the three synoptic gospels he broke the bread and fish and gave it to the disciples to distribute. Now why would John make this exception in his account?
This prompted me to look deeper into the differences and unique features of John’s account. John adds the details that there was a lot of grass in this area. That is not what one would expect. That was jarring as I was drawing a picture of the setting and grass would not normally be a part of that scenery especially after having been in Israel during early summer.
Jesus’ instruction to the people in Greek translates to sit down in order to eat, which in those days would have meant to recline. So they are reclining in green pastures, which brings to mind the 23rd Psalm and all those rich images of being cared for. “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Put this story in that setting and see how it changes what you think. Jesus becomes the good shepherd long before uttering those words.
As I mediated on this I kept coming back to the centrality of Jesus to this story. He is known in the breaking of the bread. In fact he does the four-fold action of the Eucharist in this account. He takes the bread, blesses the bread, breaks the bread and finally gives the bread of life to his flock. This is at the heart of the Eucharistic service that we do each week. We see in some respects the first Eucharistic meal here rather than at the Last Supper, which has foot washing but no bread and wine in John gospel.
However, in all of this the focus is clearly on Jesus. Jesus is the one who feeds the crowd and walks on the water. Over the next few weeks we are going to hear a series of passages about bread and it is critical for John that we understand Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is giving of himself as he goes through the crowd. Now stop and think for a moment the magnitude of going one by one to feed this huge crowd. That is a miracle in and of itself, but this is also the power of Christ’s love, of his willingness to give of himself for all.
Every person there mattered to Jesus. Jesus took the time to be sure that each person was fed, cared for, loved. This is true again and again throughout all the gospels and is an example to us of the call to share, care for and be present to each other. Nobody was ignored or beyond the love of Christ. This is an important message to all of us for so many today are ignored for a variety of reasons.
This has also been one of the great learnings and side effects of the pandemic. The distance that this forced all of us to endure for 18 months of shutdown. The joy of beginning to gather again for social reasons and also to regather in person as church is palpable. Then there is also the concern as the infection rate looks to be headed for another surge. This has really shown me the importance of the fellowship on a Sunday morning. As we look at our narthex, we want to intentional about giving people space to gather. The comment, “it is good to see you” seems to be a central theme over the past couple months.
Often it is the gift of presence that is the most important gift that we can learn from Jesus. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give is to be present to another who needs to sit down in a green pasture and be cared for. We however get hung up in our busyness and forget that sometimes the most important thing is to simply stop and pay attention. Sometimes we project our busyness onto others, assume they do not have time for us and then complain that they do not pay attention to us. Sometimes we hide behind our own busyness to avoid dealing with things that need our attention.
Being present is a big part of our call as Christians. Remember in the early church everybody cared for each other. In our church everyone is a minister by their baptism. We all have different calls to ministry, but I do believe that we are all called to be present to one another. That is one of the strengths of this parish. This is a rare parish that knows that caring for each other is everyone’s job, not just the priest’s job. However, we also need to be wiling to ask for that care when we need it. It is important that you let me know if you are in the hospital or want a visit. I am many things but I’m not a mind reader so you need to tell me. Jesus and I do not want you to suffer in silence.
One of the practices in Bishop Curry’s Way of Love is to go. Go out from here and be ministers for we are all ministers by our baptism. Now that Covid restrictions have been relaxed we are able to send our Eucharistic Visitors out to people who cannot come to church. This is an important ministry of presence. These volunteers bring the sacrament from this table to those who are ill. But just as important they bring the church to these people who cannot attend. By the way some of these people are with us right now via our Facebook livestream. That is one good thing that has come out of the pandemic is there are people who can join us on Sunday who normally would not be able to. You may not realize this but we have people following us on both coasts and in the middle east. While it’s not a physical presence it is far more than we used to be able to do.
I think it is important to remember one other way that Jesus ministered to people. He asked them “what did you want” and then he listened. Early in seminary I had a person tell me the essentials of being present to someone is the three S’s. Show up, sit down and shut up. “I’m wondering how you are doing?” is a wonderful way to start off a conversation especially if you then listen to what the person has to say.
More than anything else though I think the pandemic has shown us the importance of community and fellowship. The gathering of the faithful and the curious to figure out what this kingdom that Jesus describes and declares is all about. A kingdom where the Way of Love is the way of Jesus.