August 2nd 2020
Pentecost 9, Proper 13
For the past several Sundays, our Gospel readings have been focused on Jesus' parables. There was the parable of the sower, then the parable of the weeds and the wheat, and last week, a whole series of parables: the mustard seed, the yeast and the pearl.
Jesus used parables to teach his followers about the kingdom of God. He begins each parable by saying, "The Kingdom of heaven is like," and then tells a short, simple story, filled with characters and action that you are likely to remember.
At least, these stories seem short and simple on the surface; but they hold hidden depths of meaning. That's how metaphors work: they reveal hidden truths y extending what we know into something we don't know--yet. They expand our understanding by using the known to show us the unknown.
Jesus was a master of this style of teaching. Parables make up about one third of his teaching in the New Testament. Parabolic teaching is as effective today as it was in the first century. We still use metaphors and similes daily to explain the world, to enliven our speech, and to help us grow in learning from what we know into what we don't know.
But in today's Gospel, we turn from parable to miracle, with the feeding of the five thousand. Miracles are much less convincing to the modern mind than parables are. For instance, we know that people can't walk on water, water doesn't suddenly turn into wine, and that five loaves of bread will never be enough to feed 5,000 people.
Sometimes these stories seem rather childish, maybe even foolish, maybe just wish fulfillment, or disconnected from reality, or something to attract the gullible.
Still, miracle stories were common in the ancient world. Telling and retelling the stories of Jesus' miracles was an important way Jesus' early followers remembered and honored Him. It is the way they shared the good news with others. The story we heard today, Jesus feeding the 5000, was probably the most important miracle of all.
It's the only miracle included in all of the Gospels. Matthew and Mark like the story so much that they each tell it twice, with some variations: in one version Jesus feeds five thousand people, and in the other, four thousand. That means this story is told six times in the four Gospels. There just may be more going on in this story than we ever realized.
Each version presents the same dilemma: crowds have followed Jesus out to a deserted place to hear him teach. When evening comes, it becomes clear that people are not prepared. There's not enough food. There are few loaves of bread and a couple of fish--and the people are hungry.
The disciples don't know what to do. In some versions they suggest that Jesus just send the people away, to buy what they need in the nearby villages. But in some versions, Jesus turns to the disciples and tells them: "You give them something to eat."
"You give the something to eat" is the heart of this miracle. Jesus is saying those words to us today, just as clearly as he said them to his disciples. There is a hungry world out there, and it is our responsibility, our duty, to feed them. This hunger is both spiritual and physical.
It may look like there's not enough bread to go around, the miracle we recounted today teaches us that, in fact, if we open our eyes, we will see that there is enough--that God has already provided enough bread to feed every last person on earth.
Immigrants to the United States are drawn by the American dream, or at least the way we portray it: the lavish home, manicured lawn, multiple automobiles, and indulgences of every kind.
In fact, we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, driving an economy that is driven by our need to acquire "stuff." How many Third World countries have self-storage facilities to park the things they do not have room for. How long does it take for the rent of a storage unit to exceed the value of the stuff inside? That is in addition to the stuff in the basement, attic, garage and shed.
There are some theologians that say the miracle stories in the Gospels are really parables in disguise. Miracles are parables told about Jesus and should be understood in a similar way. The miracles should be taken as seriously as the parables of Jesus.
The miracle we heard today may seem simple on the surface: Jesus is able to magically multiply bread and fish. But push ha little deeper, and it's really a parable about how we see the world. Is there enough to go around, or not? What does it mean to share this world God has given us? what kind of people are we going to be--those who share or those who hoard?
We do quite well here. For a small church we share our resources with many places in the larger community. And we are quite clear about the Gospel. Salvation is in your personal relationship with Jesus the Savior and there are no other options.