2 Kings 4:42-44/ John 6:1-21
Feeding the Five Thousand
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Jesus Walks on the Water
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
Enough is enough.
Do you ever wonder where clichés come from? Who was the first one to say that particular phrase or how did it catch fire and become commonly shared in the lexicon? I do, so I did some research on the above statement and found that it was first identified as an English proverb in the 1500s, which equated enough with abundance: “At that stage ‘enough is enough’ meant ‘enough is good enough, we don’t need more’ – another way of saying ‘enough is as good as a feast’ in fact.”
But language evolves, because language articulates the meanings of our lives, and our lives are not static. Today, enough is enough reflects a committed refusal to continue with conditions as they are. So ‘Enough is enough’ wasn’t commonly used for several centuries until it received a boost in the civil rights and feminist movements in the USA in the 1960s. The meaning is the expression had by then completely changed, ‘enough is good – all I need’ to ‘I had enough of that – no more’.” But are these two meanings all that different?
One of Jesus’ most well-known miracles was the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus had amassed a crowd who noticed his work. The text says the crowd “kept following him,” because, when faced with a crowd, Jesus would often try to elude them. He would take the opportunity to teach, and he would respond to human needs presented to him, but Jesus did not seek the crowd.
So many conversations around the state of the church center around how do we increase our numbers (getting the crowd to come to us) rather than how can we be more faithful in following Jesus’s example of telling God’s truth and responding to human needs as we go about living our daily lives.
The moment pivots on Jesus noticing the need before him and inviting the disciples to participate in fulfilling it. One commentator, Adele Reinhartz, said “The theme in the feeding story is abundance, stunning in its quality, quantity, and its very existence. Jesus’ concern for feeding the crowd comes as a surprise, for there is no sign that they expect him to provide lunch. The story would seem to demonstrate responsibility toward the hungry. The crowd does not ask to be fed; rather, it is Jesus who takes this daunting task upon himself. The story emphasizes the wonder inherent in Jesus’ ability to feed such a big crowd with a mere five loaves and two fish, but perhaps the larger miracle is the concern to provide for others in the first place.”
Philip and Andrew demonstrate an orientation toward scarcity. Jesus asks where the necessary supply may be located, but Philip responds to a perceived obstacle instead. They lack the funds that Philip assumes makes Jesus’ query immaterial. Andrew gets closer in identifying a young person who has brought provisions, but he focuses on the limits of those resources rather than the possibilities.
How many possibilities for ministry have been thwarted by initial objections based on a scarcity orientation, like we see in Phillip & Andrew in this gospel story?
- We don’t have enough to keep the lights on if we open our doors to community needs without receiving compensation.
- We have a few members who are passionate, but not enough to maintain a sustained outreach.
There’s not enough money, time, or energy to do a thing so we can’t even allow a moment of consideration or curiosity for how it might be done?
Fortunately, in our texts, Jesus models overcoming these objections. He lets the questions breathe but provides no oxygen for them. He neither affirms nor disputes them. Instead, he makes use of what has been identified and gives instructions for the crowd to follow. As Reinhartz notes, it is remarkable that this is an unexpressed need that Jesus endeavors to meet. The crowd does not ask for or expect this act of generosity; however, when presented with the gift, they are ready to receive it.
Isn’t that what attracted them to Jesus in the first place…the unexpected that transforms, heals, and restores? They had heard of his works healing the sick, but this was different…yet the same. Scarcity is a sickness, not of the individual body, but of the community that has resources it withholds out of fear of deprivation. Do we really imagine that only this one young person had packed a lunch? Or, was this the only one unafraid to share? Was this the only one who had not learned the societal lesson that enough is never enough? That giving to someone else means taking from me, my family, and my household.
I do not question that Jesus had the ability to make the loaves and fishes multiply…and that could be the whole story. But I do find myself wondering…is the underlying miracle that Christ frees us from the mindset of scarcity to embrace the good news of abundance? Would it be an even greater miracle if after Jesus takes that bread and begins to distribute it…if others open up their satchels and shared what they had previously decided to keep only for themselves?
Could the lesson be not just that Jesus can multiply, but that the miracle doesn’t happen until we stop clinging to what we have and place it in God’s hands?
We know that in calculating the crowd size, only the men were counted. Women and children were certainly there, but not deemed worthy enough to be included in the census of the event. Yet, here is this youth breaking through and providing the catalyst for the miracle that takes place. Not just because he had it, but because he shared it…and it was received by those in authority. How many times are efforts to lead by those deemed too young, too inexperienced, too new to the community, too old, too quiet, too loud, or too (fill in the blank) been ignored or stymied because we lack the imagination to see them, hear them, and amplify them?
That young person did not have enough for everyone, but he had something to offer. It was more than enough. It was a start. In moving forward with these seemingly meager provisions, Jesus releases us from having a fully researched and resourced plan before embarking on the work of the ministry. While the disciples worried about how to pay for it, Jesus instructs everyone to sit down. To be still. To wait. To be present. To rest. Those who sat down were nourished by the meal that Jesus stirred up in the kitchen of possibilities.
Of all the miracle stories of Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand is the only one common to all four gospels. John’s telling has a significant difference. Jesus receives the bread and gives thanks for it, but this account omits his breaking of the bread. Scholars agree that even without that detail this narrative has eucharistic overtones. The question is then, why omit this step in the distribution of the meal? Bruce Longenecker theorizes:
In ways different from the traditional story of brokenness, the story in John flows in subtle but significant ways at crucial points to avoid the motif of brokenness and to include an emphasis on unbrokenness. The evangelist, in weaving his own narrative, has completely by-passed traditional understanding within the established storyline, and his readers are left to consider the story anew, challenged by this theological reworking of it to involve themselves in a new way of hearing the story about their champion, a Messiah who is associated not with brokenness but with unbrokenness.
An unbroken Christ takes the resources from an uncounted person and uses them for a kingdom demonstration–-the abundance of God’s creation. This story does not encourage us to sit and wait for Jesus to wave a magic wand to feed the hungry without any participation from us. It invites us to bring what we have, place it in God’s hands, and to trust that what we have is more than enough. It’s a call to notice the need we aren’t expected to fill–-and fill it anyway because that’s what love looks like. It’s a compulsion to be the good news and agents of God’s restoration and abundance manifested in the world.
An unbroken Christ would have us declare that enough is enough to systems that generate, perpetuate, and profit from scarcity.
- Enough is enough to billionaires racing themselves for a personal joy ride into space when world poverty is on the rise during a continuing global pandemic.
- Enough is enough to inequity in pay based on gender identity and expression due to sexism, misogyny, and cis-gender bias.
- Enough is enough to racism and racial violence that targets Asian elders in the era of COVID-19 and kills black and brown bodies without consequence. Enough is enough to the systems of this world.
But the unbroken Christ also warned us not to avoid the log in our own eyes.
- Enough is enough to the church that prioritizes the beauty of her buildings over the needs of her community.
- Enough is enough to the church that functions with the same scarcity mindset as the rest of the world while proclaiming to serve the God with the cattle on a thousand ills.
The unbroken Jesus who saw the crowd, who saw the little children, who saw the widow, the marginalized and the oppressed, declares that enough is enough of this broken world because God’s enough is more than enough.
I imagine that young person being approached by Andrew, who sees that he has some provisions and giving an account. Or, maybe Andrew simply noticed him and did the count on his own. Or, maybe this young person, who so often goes unnoticed, was there all the time, hearing this conversation…hearing the need, and realizing that he has something to offer. It’s not everything, but it is enough.
- It’s enough to start a miracle.
- It’s enough to change circumstances.
- It’s enough, more than enough, for God to work with and to work through.
And that’s a miracle.