Sunday, June 2, 2024

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14

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.”

I will never forget the miracles one day as I was standing almost right next to Jesus. I was just a young lad then, but I recall them vividly.

King Herod had just executed John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin. So, Jesus came to our area, which was out of Herod’s jurisdiction. One day a huge crowd followed Jesus out to the countryside. My father and mother and I were early arrivals, getting space up front. We could hear Jesus talking to his disciples before everyone was assembled.

I had heard that Jesus was a miracle worker. I could not have told you what a miracle was for a hundred shekels of silver. But I know now. I saw miracles before my eyes when I went with my father one day to the countryside to hear Jesus of Nazareth speak. There was an enormous crowd, my father said at least five thousand.

The people kept streaming up. After a while, Jesus said to a disciple (Philip, I learned later), “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Philip glanced at Jesus with alarm. “Where are we going to buy bread!” he stammered. “When did it become our responsibility to feed these people?”

Jesus just sort of gazed at Philip with the same expression on his face that my father gave me when I had said or done something particularly stupid. Philip saw it and glanced at the ground, chastened. But he still spoke. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Jesus said nothing but turned to look at the crowd. After a few minutes Jesus preached to us. I don’t recall all he said. It was a long time ago. Years later, I learned what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. What he said in the countryside that day was much like that.

It was the miracles that have stayed with me.

My father looked intently at Jesus as he spoke, almost as if he’d never heard anyone preach about God and justice and charity and forgiveness and love and mercy and good deeds and … well, a lot of things. My mother was sitting near me and she was also fixed on what Jesus was saying.

“Bear one another’s burdens,” I remember Jesus said, “for this is how you fulfill God’s commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commandment. Do not return evil for evil, but for everyone who hates you, love them in return. Pray for those who wish you harm, love your enemies, and do good to those who wrong you.” Here he paused and looked frankly rather impishly around while a grin crossed his face, “For in doing this it will be as Proverbs says, like bringing heaps of coals upon their heads!”

The crowd roared at that, my mother and father included. I saw many people clap their hands and nod in agreement. “That’s right!” many exclaimed. “The prophets taught all this, too!”

Before long Jesus stopped preaching and walked into the crowd. Now I understood why so many people had come out. Many were sick, ill, or injured. Parents had brought children for Jesus to bless; some of the children were ill, too. Lame people wanted to walk again normally.

Jesus had great compassion for them. He prayed with most, blessed many, reproved some (but not harshly) and cured many. I knew as I watched that Jesus was a holy man.

By now the sun was getting low. Some of the disciples came to Jesus and said softly (though several of us heard), “This is open country and there is nothing here. It’s getting late. Send this crowd away to the local villages so they can buy themselves some food.”

Jesus said to them, “They don’t need to go anywhere. You give them something to eat.”

At that the disciples looked at each other uneasily. They didn’t know what to say. Well, neither did I. One of them looked at me and I knew he’d must have seen me earlier re-wrapping the bread and fish my mother had given me to carry. I started to push it behind me but it was too late.

The disciple turned to Jesus and said, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 

I could not believe my ears. What did I have to do with their debate? I looked quickly at my mother, who was frowning. I glanced up at my father. He stood with pursed lips and narrowed eyes.

Jesus may be special, I thought, but his disciples aren’t so great. Jesus had handed them a problem and they just ducked it, then tried to hand it off on me, a kid!

Jesus shook his head a little. Then he looked at me with a very kind, indeed, hopeful expression on his face. I stopped trying to hide the five loaves and two fish. Jesus held out his hand toward me, then looked at my father and mother. He said nothing but his face showed hopeful expectation. I saw something else, too. I saw the face of someone I could trust.

Without waiting for my father’s permission, I placed the food bundle in Jesus’ hand. He smiled broadly and squeezed my shoulder. He turned to his disciples and said, “Make the people sit down.”

It took a few minutes. With everyone sitting, they could all see Jesus as he stood. He raised a loaf of bread toward heaven and gave thanks for it, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Then he gave them the fish.

The disciples stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do. Jesus still had a loaf in his hand. He took two steps toward me and gave it to me. I held it for a moment, unsure of what to do myself. Then, hesitatingly, I tore off a piece of bread and handed the loaf to my mother. She took a piece and handed it to my father.

I could see my father was torn. Jesus had no permission from him to confiscate that bread. It was dad’s property, and he had the right to keep it. He looked at Jesus, but Jesus had stepped to the other side of the disciples while they imitated what Jesus had done, giving the bread to the people.

My father shook his head slightly. He really didn’t know what to do. Well, what he wanted to do was not what he knew he should do. He said aloud, talking to no one in particular, “You remember what Jesus said? ‘Whoever has some will be given abundantly more, but whoever does not have much will have even that little taken from them’.”

My father tore off a piece of bread and passed the loaf to the man sitting nearby. This man took it and stared at my father. The other man said, “What did he mean by that?”

My father paused, then said, “I think he meant that in God’s kingdom, we will not get unless we give. If we don’t give, then God take from us even what little we have.”

The other man said, “That’s why you’ve given me your bread.” Then he turned toward the next family and gave the bread to them. “Here, take this. We brought bread, too, but hid it because we wanted it for ourselves.” He motioned to his wife who reached under the folds of her robe and took out four or five round loaves. She and her husband kept one and passed the others to their neighbors.

I looked around, stunned to see the same thing happening everywhere. People were laughing, some were crying, all were at peace with one another. Indeed, we were all filled with joy! And all around, hands disappeared beneath robes or into backpacks and reappeared with loaves of bread and perhaps some smoked fish.

My mother and father and I came out on the short end because no one offered us any of their food. We had to make do with just the single piece of bread we’d each tore off to begin with. This bothered me a little but it was not possible to stay upset with such spirit all around.

After some time, Jesus told his disciples, “Gather up the leftovers, so that nothing may be lost.”

The disciples picked up a large basket each and went among the people, telling what Jesus had said. Few demurred. The baskets were filled by the time they finished. I laughed at how the disciples had to lug those heavy baskets back to Jesus!

Jesus took a wicker plate and filled it with bread and fish. Then he stepped over to me and handed it to me. It was a big heap of food! Then he gave another plateful each to my mother and father.

At that I heard someone call out, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!”

Jesus’ teachings became suddenly clear. In the Kingdom of God another’s joys become our laughter, another’s pain becomes our tears. One who is naked wears our clothes. One who is hungry eats our food. The Kingdom of God is a sort of spiritual cooperative. When we serve our neighbor in need, we will be served when we need it. When the love of God goes from us, it comes back to us.

Five loaves of bread and two fish. What no one thought would be adequate for God’s work turned out to be far more than enough. A banquet was served that day, a banquet of life and love and grace, almost more than the disciples could carry.

Here are the miracles I saw that day: people’s hearts were changed, barriers were broken, generosity flowered, and we loved one another. Jesus gave to us, and it was Jesus we gave one another. If those are not miracles, nothing is!

Are you hungry? Go to Jesus’ table as we did, for it is Jesus being served. And there is no greater miracle than that!

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