"Have we surrendered ourselves to God’s will? All of us as meager as we are have something to offer someone in need. Like the little boy with the bread and the fish if we offer it to God he will turn it into a miracle."
Hal Perry is getting near "retirement" from work in the Corrections system, where he's been focused on a Christian effort to help people regain and make life-giving use of freedom. I put retirement in quotes because he already has a calendar full of accreditation inspections to correctional institutions around the country. He was good enough to speak to God's people at Good Shepherd on July 26th.
Five Loaves and two fish to feed 5,000
We all have those old favorite stories that we share with favorite old friends and family.
When you get together with certain people the conversation will get around to an old favorite that begins with "Do you remember when" and people will start to groan or chuckle with delight.
For Example, here at Good Shepherd there is an old story about an individual who will remain nameless who on a Shrove Tuesday during a pancake feed dumped a whole pan of sausage in the garbage can. That always manages to get a laugh or two although I can’t imagine why.
Well, the gospel story for today is an old favorite about Jesus and his disciples that has been told over and over again. There are some stories like the story of the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son or the story of the sheep and the goats that are told only once in the gospels.
But the story for today about the five loaves and two fish is not told merely once, not twice, not three times but four times. It is the only gospel miracle which is told in its fullness in all four gospels. Why is this story told over and over I believe it is because it captures the essence of the people involved, the essential truth about Jesus and about God?
So I would like to retell this story, but include elements from the other gospel versions and two other bible stories that are connected. It is spring time in Israel. The rains have made the hills green and the flowers are blooming. It is Passover time which is a time of great religious feast, like Easter is for us. It meant a holiday from school and work. People were taking trips and going on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It was also popularity time for Jesus. He had healed people of their diseases and his popularity was enormous. He was like a rock star and thousands of people would gather to hear him preach. Kind of like they did at Woodstock back in the 1960’s.
But it was also tragedy time in Israel. According to the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist had just been beheaded. People were stunned. Remember that John the Baptist was at that time the greatest prophet the people of Israel had experienced for four hundred years. So it was grieving time remember that John was the one who baptized Jesus so Jesus to was grieving. He wanted to get away to grieve, to pray, to remember so he gets in a boat on Lake Galilee to sail across some four miles to a remote private area. Jesus took a four mile boat ride that is like the distance from Sioux Falls to Tea the problem was people could see his boat from shore so when Jesus got to the other side the crowd had already gathered.
And what was Jesus reaction to the massive crowd was he irritated or angry no, he had compassion and looked on them as people in need of spiritual feeding and he healed them and taught them. The day passed quickly and it got to be late in the day, one of the disciples came to Jesus and said the people do not have any food maybe we should send them home. According to John’s version of the story this is when as a test Jesus asks Philip. How are we going to buy bread so the people can eat? Philip replied, it would take more than two hundred denari, more than two hundred days wages and even that would not be enough to feed all these people. Jesus told the disciples to look around and see what they could find. Andrew found a young boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish and brought the boy and the food to Jesus. Jesus invited everyone to sit on the grass he took the food looked up to heaven and gave thanks gave the food to the disciples with instructions to feed the people and when everyone was full there were still 12 baskets of bread left. But that is not the end of the story a few days later it happens again this time 4 thousand are feed and 7 baskets are left over.
The amazing twist to this story is after seeing all these miracles the healings and feeding the masses the disciples still question where their next meal is coming from. Jesus knowing their thoughts asks them don’t you get it, don’t you understand, are you so hardheaded and hardhearted that you don’t know who I am. Don’t you understand that God’s generosity is so great that he will take care of all your needs?
That is the real story, the miracles are important to the time but service to others and pastoral care are what I get from this story. When I think of Jesus I think of the ultimate servant leader and what he teaches is to serve your fellow man. Here at Good Shepherd we have always taken on special projects like the Berakah House [Residence for people with AIDS] the Salvation Army [Community dinners] the MAP program and many others.
But the question is as always are we doing enough? Have we surrendered ourselves to God’s will? All of us as meager as we are have something to offer someone in need. Like the little boy with the bread and the fish if we offer it to God he will turn it into a miracle. So when you think of this old story don’t concentrate on the miracle concentrate on the pastoral care and service to others and create your own miracle. Amen.