From the time we were children, sitting on our parent’s laps as they read to us, we have been taught that the world can be categorized into opposites. Even though those books don’t try to place a value on one side or the other, as we grow, we learn that very often one is better than the other. Our categorization and our valuation then become our worldview, so that we can envision no other possibilities. If it is little, if it is few, if it is weak, it is not enough, it cannot be done.
Jesus’ disciples weren’t raised with cardboard children’s books, but they too were steeped in a world in which things were categorized and valued. Their actions and beliefs were based on that ability to judge the world and their possibilities.
So, it’s not surprising that the disciples act on their worldview. We read this morning that a great crowd has followed Jesus up a mountain, because they have seen great signs performed by Jesus. Jesus tests the disciples by asking where food to feed the crowd might be purchased. Philip replies that more money than they have would still not be enough to buy a little food for each, which would not be enough. Then Andrew comes forward with a boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish. Barley loaves are the inferior bread of the poor. And five plus two is still practically nothing for those who number greater than 5000.
We who live with the same ability to categorize and value, to assess and make judgments, must agree, that is simply not enough.
I have to wonder what expression was on Jesus’ face as Andrew asked, “But what are they (the five barley loaves and two fish) among so many people?” Did Jesus’ face betray frustration that even after all the signs and miracles he has performed, the disciples still aren’t able to grasp his power? Or was there joy on his face, as he prepared to do what seemed impossible, to care for all these people, and reveal more of his identification with God?
Jesus had the five thousand sit, and he took the loaves, and the fish, gave thanks, and distributed them to the people. Those people ate all they wanted, and when the excess was collected, it filled twelve baskets. That which was categorized and valued as too little and not enough, Jesus transformed into overabundance.
In John’s gospel more than any other gospel’s telling of this event, the focus is on Jesus. Jesus took the loaves. Jesus, when he had given thanks, distributed them. The bread is amazing, but more so is the one who provides it.
Jesus is the one who takes the offering that the disciples had already categorized as meager, had already valued as insufficient, and Jesus breaks apart those assumptions as he gives himself. The needs of each person are met, they are satisfied, and there is more left over. Jesus creates abundance where we see there is not enough.
In the church, I think we can get caught up in our way of evaluating. It’s easy to see too few, too little, not enough. We forget that Jesus is here. We forget that Jesus breaks apart our devaluation. Jesus turns too little into more than enough. Jesus makes possible what we see as impossible.
I believe God works despite our doubt, as Jesus provided abundant bread in answer to Andrew’s questioning how the boy’s offering could make any difference to the crowd’s need. But I also believe that we have opportunities to act in faith, which God uses, as the boy acted in faith as he shared his meal, giving it to Jesus to use as he would.
I grew up in a small church. It became smaller and smaller as people became afraid for the future, as conflict grew out of fear, and people left the community instead of looking to Jesus for hope and the strength to work towards healing. By the time I was a senior in high school, our multi-class Sunday School had dwindled into one mixed-age group that I attempted to teach. Everything was too little, too few, not enough. Eventually, the church closed.
As a Lutheran teenager who was interested in exploring a faith life, I often felt alone. Sure, I had friends who were Christian, and went with some of them to youth groups and mission trips. But, I’d come back to my home church, and find myself sitting alone in a pew. It wasn’t until I went to St. Olaf College that I experience Christian community, worship with other Lutherans my age, and met people who were serious about the impact their faith had on their lives and their work.
The ELCA Youth Gathering, from which I just returned, was an amazing experience in Christian community, as God gathered together Lutheran youth from around the country and the world, and worked through each of us. When Autumn, Mackenzie, and I entered the Superdome for opening worship, we were struck by the noise and energy of an entire stadium filled with people singing praise songs. We could feel, reverberating in our bodies, the power of the combined voices of tens of thousands of people, united in Jesus. Repeatedly, we were called to join together to act for justice and peace as we support each other in becoming Jesus’ disciples. We were reminded that God seeks to change the world through us. Our responsibility is to learn about the world, the needs of our neighbors, and follow God’s call to serve. Seeing so many people join together because of their faith and their desire to live that faith, reminded us that even though we come from small towns, where we can feel too few, we are not alone in our work for God, and together, all God’s people can make a difference.
What is your experience of evaluating and dismissing? Where do you long for God to surprise you with abundance? What has felt too little, too small, too few in your life?
Is it something in your home life? Time? Money? Forgiveness?
Is it something in your congregation? Money? People? Dedication?
Is it something in the world? Food? Health care? Peace?
Whatever you despair of ever being enough, God can transform. With this miracle of abundant bread, Jesus declares that he is the bread of life. Jesus is the I AM, the God who brought all things into being, out of nothingness. Jesus was raised to life once he had already died. Jesus makes possible what we believe is impossible. Jesus shatters all categories that cause us to hesitate. Move forward with hope, give with generosity, act with an eye towards the horizon of the day of healing and restoration God will bring. Jesus is here to make your small acts great. You and your gifts are enough for God to use to bring life and healing to the world.
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