Jul25SunJuly 25, 2021 by Carey Meadows-Helmer
Feeding the 5000
The crowd gathered. It was a big crowd gathered near Jesus. Or as close as they could get. The hillside full. Five thousand people, John’s Gospel says. And that’s likely just counting the men. A crowd that could fill the Aud at or beyond capacity.
On the grass, the people came together. The place beckoned, Come and sit for a while. “Make the people sit down,” Jesus encouraged the disciples. So the people sat on the grassy hill near the seashore. Comfortably, in that large pasture with the shepherd in the distance.
Not everyone could hear the words directly from Jesus even with the natural amplification of the water. While I imagine Jesus speaking loudly almost shouting about matters of law and of turning over tables; words of grace I hear as more softly spoken. Almost a whisper carried with the wind at first. Shouted only to ears unable to hear.
In spite of the large crowd or maybe because of it, the people gathered in the presence of the one who had turned water into wine, healed the sick all over the countryside - the blind, the lame, paralyzed, the children.
It is no surprise that the crowd followed Jesus wherever he went. Wanting this stirring/hunger they had inside to be fed. If only we could get close enough, to look him in the face, to touch him, to talk with him and listen to his words. But the crowd was so big and so many were vying for a moment with the one who make miracles come to life.
And so the people sat there on the grass with the shepherd off in the distance. Somewhat content to be in proximity to the buzz - the Gospel hum a balm to the hunger deep within.
And then, Jesus appears before them with offerings of bread and fish. They didn’t even know the enormity of their hunger until they opened and outstretches their hands to receive the gift of food he was offering. To take in the presence of Jesus right before them. No longer off in the distance but there before their eyes.
The bread and fish start coming around in abundance. The surprising thing is that there isn’t a shortage. The dynamic starts to change. The discontent diminishes and a sacred silence takes hold. The type you don’t interrupt. Similar to a family dinner table all of a sudden quiet with people enjoying their meals. While they eat, the sounds of the earth can be heard. The bird’s wings cutting through the air. The trees leaves rustling above. The water lapping on the shore below.
As the crowd sits on the grass, basking in the abundance God is gifting, something happens. What was happening was connection. The crowd is being reminded, re-membered, re-formed into one with all of creation. Isn’t that what God’s work so often does, right in the midst of us? God sets a table and invites us to come together - even if that means on our own socially distance blankets on the hillside.
There on that grassy hillside. They were tasting a meal and living an experience that drew them out of scarcity of life that rattles us and into the abundance that is God. A meal that cuts through the noise. That silences the critic within. A meal that imagines first and then begins to build the table bigger. A place where all can gather and be fed. Where the hunger within can be satisfied.
The hunger was deep down. It’s easy to ignore with all the trappings of life but this meal Jesus serves on the hillside, shows a deep hunger and then begins to feed the hunger.
In his book called Liturgies From Below, Praying with the People at the Ends of the World, Claudio Carvalhaes writes a poem about what we hunger for. It is called Deep Down Hunger.
Hunger of justice
Hunger of care
Hunger of better life
Hunger of being listen to
Hunger of peace
Hunger of happiness
Hunger of prosperity
Hunger of stability
Deep down hunger is the hunger of a life - true life that cannot be found elsewhere but in God.
Jesus on that hillside was feeding that deep down hunger. Those gathering experience the miracle of enough for all. Not only is there enough. There is an abundance.
God provides before anyone asks to be fed. We don’t hear the crowd asking to be fed. They likely don’t know what they are missing. They don’t know what it means or feels like or looks like to have hunger satisfied in abundance. They are use to living in a world where scarcity is the reality for most.
But just as Jesus does so often, showing us that God’s way is a way of abundance. Not the type of abundance that buys us fancy cars or flies us into space but the abundance that shows us the hunger in our lives and communities and then feeds the hunger through something as simple as being fed with bread. God is ever leading us out of a way of scarcity and showing us the way of abundance often before we are even aware of own hunger.
I read a quote this week:
Scarcity is a sickness, not of the individual body, but of the community that has resources it withholds out of fear of deprivation.
Scarcity is often our default mode. But God continually challenges us to live into a way that means abundance for all. They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Living into this way of abundance expenses God’s love for us. It’s a love that invites people to sit together on the hillside table and have the hungers of life fed.
The thing is, we are called to use and share our resources, like the young child with the backpack on the hillside who shares the food he has.
What’s more is as the story of the feeding of the 5000 ends. The evening comes. The dark night sky blankets the earth. Jesus goes to the mountain to get away from the crowd. The disciples are in the boat, the storm blows in over the sea, the rough waters and gusting winds toss the boat around. The disciples don’t call out for Jesus. Jesus comes to them even before they can utter a word. As they see Jesus approaching, they are frightened. Do not be afraid, we hear.
Bread on the hillside and comfort in the storm.
Jesus provides and shows the way of abundance even before the disciples know their hunger or need.
God provides and nudges us into a way of abundance that gathers us into one, so that all may be fed. Even in the midst of a storm
It would serve us well to ask:
Where have we experienced God’s abundance this year even in the midst of a storm?
In closing, a prayer by Claudio Carvalhaes, called We Are the Table on Earth
O Lord of abundance, we are hungry.
We are hungry for enough food for every person.
We are hungry for justice that allows food to be given to everyone.
You’ve come and told us that you are the bread of life, in whom we all have a share.
Bring us to the table where a place is reserved for the poor and the hungry. Help our churches to become the table on earth where the bread of life is shared. O God, feed us, bodies and souls, hungry and weary.
Now we sing a song from our new hymnal, All Creation Sings, called,
Build a Larger Table