“You want the impossible” a defeated Luke Skywalker says to Yoda, his Jedi Master, after failing to use the Force to lift his submerged ship from a swamp. (This scene is from what is arguably the best of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back. Though, a case can be made for Rogue One as being the best film … but alas, this is a blog about Sunday’s Scripture and sermon, not about Star Wars!)
You want the impossible.
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In this Sunday’s reading from John 6:1-15 we see a demonstration of Jesus making the impossible possible as he feeds 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. From an unexpected giver (a young boy) and a small gift, Jesus works wonders and abundance for his people. Not only were all fed, but all ate until they were full, even leaving piles of leftovers, too. This is truly a demonstration of God’s abundance, love, and power, all wrapped up into one miracle.
When trying to understand the miracles, it helps if we look at what surrounds the miracles themselves. It’s not enough that Jesus does a cool trick (like a Jedi Master or a comic book superhero). Indeed, it’s not just the mind-bending, science-defying nature of the miracle that is so special (though that is the glitter that most often captures our attention). How our Lord performs the miracles says as much – or more – about God and God’s intent for creation than does the divine act of power itself. Let’s break it down.
- This miracle is intended to instruct: “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus asks Philip (John 6:5). This is a teaching moment. Like the teacher who asks a student to answer a math question, Jesus already knows how to solve this problem. But Philip does not. Jesus performs this miracle – this sign, to use the terminology of the Gospel of John – to show Philip and the disciples not just God’s power, but the abundance of God’s compassion and grace. Philip’s response – about how much money would be needed to buy enough food for the crowd – shows how the disciples continue to see and to think about life on the world’s terms (scarcity, limits) rather than on God’s terms (abundance, limitless).
- A simple gift is used to work wonders: “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish” (John 6:9). The inadequacy of this supply of food compared to the size of the crowd is immediately underscored as Andrew comments, “What good is that for a crowd like this?” Yet it is this small gift from a small human – a youth – that becomes the stuff of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5,000 people. It is a simple gift, a modest gift, from an unlikely source. This too, tells us something about Jesus and his Kingdom. “Size matters not” (to quote Saint Yoda of Dagobah, from the same movie as above). God values and lifts up those who society might dismiss: the young, the small, the weak. (See 1 Corinthians 1 for Saint Paul’s riff on God’s nature to use foolishness shaming the wise, weakness shaming the strong).
- The people eat. And eat. And eat: Everyone in the crowd ate “as much as they wanted,” and “had plenty to eat” (John 6:11, 12). This was no mere ration, no careful measuring to make sure they didn’t run out of their supply, or to make sure everyone had the same modest amount. No. People ate “as much as they wanted.” Some surely ate more than others, some less. Appetites vary. Yet all were filled with good things (Luke 1:53). And there were leftovers – more leftovers than there were loaves of bread and fish to begin with! The Kingdom of God is not about fairness – if “fair” means everyone gets an equal share – but instead it is all having what they need … and more.
- The disciples pick up the leftovers: Note that Jesus takes the food, blesses the food, and serves the food (John 6:11). After they eat, Jesus directs the disciples to collect the leftovers – 12 baskets full! Imagine that – the calling of the disciples here is not to perform the miracle. It is not to provide the food for the miracle (an unknown young boy did that!). Instead, the disciples here simply behold the wonder of God at work, and collect the abundance of God’s provision “so that nothing will be wasted” (John 6:12).
- The people are impressed, and try to fit Jesus into their mold: So impressed by Jesus’ miraculous deeds, the crowd sought to force Jesus to be their king (John 6:14, 15). Such power, in their minds, belongs in human authority structures. Such power should be adorned with a crown, hold a scepter, and rule over land and people. Yet this is not the nature of Jesus’ power, nor of his kingdom.
As with all miracle stories, let us see not just the what – the wondrous deed – but also the how, the way in which the wondrous deed is done. For it is often more in the how than in the what that we catch a glimpse of the nature of God’s power, God’s love, and God’s intent for all creation.
See you on Sunday.