Reading: Mark 6:30-44
I wonder what you make of this amazing episode. How did Jesus do that? Five fish and two loaves of bread feeds 5000 men along with women and children. 12 basketfuls of food left over. Before you get too far down the track of answering that I want to remind you that Jesus taught with stories. These stories were sometimes word stories. He taught using parables and pictures because I think he knew well that faith doesn’t reduce well easy simple answers… I think like many of contemporary rabbis he often answered a question with a question because he wanted to engage his listeners not with neat logical answers but with metaphors and images. God didn’t direct with neat rational certainties, but worked in the mystery of the images and stories to engage hearts and minds. It is an engaging approach in which we are drawn into to find the answers in our context.
So why would his actions be any different. Our logical un-poetic minds want simple neat answers, so when we read of so many of Jesus’ actions or miracles and we are left pondering, ‘so how did he do that?’ as if he went around performing magic tricks. We miss the point. We should be asking what this action, this pictures teaching us. What is Jesus trying to engage us with? Actions like feeding an army of people with fives loaves and 2 fish may tax our rational minds with how did he do that, but the real question is what Jesus is teaching us. Did it happen exactly like this – I have no idea, and actually that’s not important. It’s the message, the picture that we need to engage with.
I find my eye catching two parts of the story. The first is when the disciples look to Jesus to tell the crowds to disperse and go and get some food. It was well past dinner time and things needed to be closed off so they could eat. It seems a reasonable request. Get the boss to sort them out. But Jesus responds with a startling comment. “You give them something to eat”. The disciples are dumbfounded he doesn’t seem to comprehend there are thousands of hungry people. Imagine you are the disciples and you do the sums – we’ll need at least $10,000. You mean we should go and buy food for this lot. Well that wasn’t exactly what Jesus had in mind, so he asks them what they have. It isn’t much. They are able to rustle up five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. But as they offer what they have it proves to be enough. My eye catches the end of the story with 12 great basketfuls of leftovers. Where did all that food come from? Did Jesus secretly call in the catering ladies? Did he actually create more food out of the 5 loaves and two fish? Did he have a secret source of food he was hiding? ??? What do you think?
I have another question. Why did Jesus even care about their need of food? (He started off the day searching for peace and quiet with his disciples and ended up surrounded by hordes of people who he felt compelled to teach. If I was Jesus I think I would have happily sent them all away!)
So what do you make of this story….What is the picture that sits there for you? For me it is a simple picture of the new earth God is calling into being where there is no hunger. Everyone is fed. There is a plentiful supply of food and it finds its way into everyone’s mouths. Food is a basic need, we pray for food every day in the Lord’s Prayer and as we pray that surely it’s not just us we are praying for. We are praying for an earth where everyone has daily food aren’t we?
Today is a day in which churches around the world are asked to pray for the alleviation of famine. You know as I do that there are millions of people going hungry and needing dinner. Hordes of people. What can I do? The reality is possibly not much… I feel like the disciples felt…but what more do we learn from the gospel?
Do you sense the concern of Jesus? Do you feel the compassion of Jesus in your bones. Do you feel the agony of Jesus when in the western world our problem is obesity while elsewhere it’s famine. Something is very wrong. Listen to that voice from heaven….
I know it’s not as simple as shifting some of the food off my plate onto someone else’s plate, but don’t let the tension of the situation simply go into the too hard basket. There are issues of trade here. Pay more for your bananas with the Fairtrade sticker because you know the producers are getting a fair wage which will enable them to put food on the table of their families. Ask the clothing retailer when you buy clothes to assure you there is no slave labour used in the production of the clothing. Use the Tearfund ethical guide to find out which brands perform well and which have no ethical accountability in their supply chain. Use consumer pressure and ask questions – it does change things.
Keep talking to God about famine. One of the things I know I need constant reminding of is that the life of a black Somali person is of equal value in God’s eyes as mine. I find it too easy to forget that and to say I deserve more of the earth’s resources because …I don’t know really… I’m part of a society that has been more successful at harnessing the goodness of the earth, I have more education, I’m white and white is intrinsically better….I simply hear God saying – really??????
But also acknowledge the good. I am part of a church community where this week two of our members will be off to Tanzania to visit the Your Sisters project. That’s about education, giving young women skills to shape a better life, and they will bring change to others around them. Educating women is a huge thing in alleviating famine. Educate men and they want to buy guns, educate women and the want to feed the children. That’s doing something about famine and its root causes.
I am part of a church family that works through agencies like Tearfund, World Vision, CWS, to help when the typhoon or hurricane comes, when the rain fails or the rain never ceases (often these days caused by climate change of which we contribute). When the crises come and there is literally no food, these agencies provide. But they also work to educate, to build stable community where food production can happen locally.
And locally I am part of a church community that works through projects like Waltham Cottage, providing support, providing food to vulnerable people. Waltham Cottage helps build community in all sorts of ways and in that building of community people are fed. But they are fed literally in the support we offer through a food bank. It’s not dramatic – maybe 3-4 households helped every week. People on the edge faced with an unexpected bill and the first thing that is hit is the food budget. Our donations of food are put to good use.
So we pray today for the alleviation of famine because we know God cares. E pray because we know there is enough food to go round but we need to reshape trading patterns to be just. We pray for changes of heart that really do see all people as God’s children. We pray for educational initiatives especially for the women of the world. We pray for the local initiatives like Waltham cottage.