from Nov 20
John 6:1-15New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Feeding the Five Thousand
6 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 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?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 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. 11 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. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 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.”
15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Food is at the heart of this story. Food is at the heart of our own stories. I have heard it said that food is one of God’s love languages. We eat every day, most of us here probably eat more than once a day. Eating is even a chore sometimes, as if we have fallen into a mundane routine. But is food unpleasant? Is eating boring? If it is, then we must not be doing it right. There is so much delicious food to fill and nourish our bodies. Some more nutritional than others. Especially this time of year.
With Thanksgiving coming up this week it is easy to get caught up in planning travel arrangements or the logistics of who is frying the turkey and who is baking the pies and which cousin is a vegetarian now. We reserve Thursday as the day to enjoy the food and our family or friends. Why do we only have one day to celebrate sharing a meal when we eat every other day too?
As a Young Adult Volunteer, I live in Intentional Christian Community with other YAVs. We receive a small stipend as well as a monthly budget for food. Our food budget each month is $60 per person each month. An average of just $2 per day. Needless to say, we live simply. We make sacrifices when it comes to food choices because the three of us have decided to pool our $60 monthly for a total of $180 and go grocery shopping together. We plan out our meals and make lists of ingredients. We often share 2 or 3 meals a week with church members or at other community events. It is a special occasion when we get to eat in the Ferncliff dining hall where Jim the chef serves us second helpings and there is a salad bar.
Food is imperative in any community and ours is no exception. We sit down at the table almost every night for supper. We come back to the house at midday for lunch together on weekdays. So much of our time is spent sharing meals. Most of our vegetables come from our own garden and all of our eggs are fresh from our farm too. Having such a strict budget limits our meal choices and means we hardly ever let food go to waste. I don’t think anything has stayed in our fridge long enough to go bad. If something doesn’t get eaten, it gets composted and goes right back into our garden.
Sharing food together is healthy for the body and it is healthy for the soul.
The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is one of only two miracles that appears in all four gospels, yet how often do we read it? Many of us may not have heard it since we were children.
Why were the 5000 coming to see Jesus? Was it because they were hoping to be healed? Was it to witness the spectacle of his celebrity? The author lets us in on the fact that Jesus of Nazareth must have been making a name for himself because the crowd gathered already knew of his earlier miracles. They must have read the news headlines. It doesn’t seem that anyone came expecting to be fed. In fact, Jesus is the one that brings up food for the 5000 in the first place. It is only after this hospitality is extended that the disciples and readers notice a scarcity of resources.
What about the miracle of multiplying a mere five loaves of bread and 2 fish into enough to feed the multitude of people gathered on the hillside? Not only are they fed, they are full. Verse twelve is clear that everyone ate as much as they wanted, not just as much as they needed. There we also read that another twelve baskets were filled up with all of the leftovers. That is more than what we started with. Jesus is gathering up everything left that can be shared “so that nothing is wasted”.
We can linger on the test of Philip’s faith that is verse six. Jesus already knew. He knew what he was going to do. He knew these people had come to see a show, to perhaps be convinced themselves that he was really the promised King. He knew that a child came bearing a small quantity of food. And most importantly, he knew that people come together over food. He fed their bodies with bread and fish but fed their hearts and souls with the word of God and the company of one another.
I would bet that hundreds of new friendships were forged that day on that hillside. It is hard to walk away from that many people with a full belly but without new friends.
Less than a month ago I was in Honduras with the mission team from the Presbytery of Arkansas. I had met a few of the team members before but I wouldn’t have called us friends. We were representatives of half a dozen churches from all over the state, plus met dozens of people from Central America. Our team went to contribute towards the building of houses in Rincon del Buey outside of a tourist town near the Guatemalan border. There, Heifer International is facilitating community development in small communities.
In Rincon del Buey, 11 families were in the process of building 3-room cinderblock homes. Our team brought willing hands, open hearts, and much-needed funding to the project. None of us are construction professionals so we learned more than we taught. Every day we were at the work site there, we carried a big ice chest with us. It was full of bottled water, Gatorade, and all of the fixings for ham and cheese sandwiches. A couple of us would stand over the ice chest at midday, make twenty or so sandwiches, wrap them in napkins, and pass them around to our Honduran brothers and sisters before any of us served ourselves. All of us would then sit on some old boards on the ground and eat together.
We had no physical table. We had an ice chest and a few dirty boards. We came together any way.
The last day we were preparing to head to work and our Honduran host shared with us that we would not be picking up groceries to make sandwiches that day because the members of the community Rincon del Buey had extended an invitation to us for a farewell lunch. They had had half a dozen mission teams from the United States come through their town, and not until ours arrived had any other visiting group invited them to share lunch. They wanted to extend the love of Christ right back to us and so made pupusas for everyone the last day we were on the work site. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with melted cheese and a vegetable. Like the previous days, we laid out those boards and instead of napkin-wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches, we all gave thanks to God with hot pupusas in our hands.
Pastor Juan Bautista Rodas traveled with our team most of the week and he doesn’t speak English. Because of my academic background, I was most often the translator for our team. I repeated his blessings each day over our lunchtime sandwiches. I sat next to him at almost every meal and shared in his conversations with other members of our team. Most often he wanted to talk to other pastors and learn about their work which meant that I learned so much about theirs and his as well. His last meal with our team before returning to his home was breakfast. That morning, he told me not to say goodbye to him or he would cry. Pastor Juan and I are friends. Needless to say, none of us left those meals with empty bellies and all of us left with new friends.
There is a word in Spanish that has no equivalent in English. It is Sobremesa. “Sobre” is over and “mesa” is table. It translates literally to “over the table”. It is a time, after everyone has finished eating, that they sit around the table to enjoy each other’s company and digest the meal they’ve just shared. It happens on holidays, it happens at dinner parties, it happens at business lunches, it happens every day. There is even a separate word for when it happens over coffee.
Jesus calls upon us to share our food, not to just feed the hungry. He calls to invite them to our meals and share our table. Jesus knows what can happen when people have full stomachs and are sitting with one another at a table. Jesus knows the peace in people’s hearts when they are at a table. There are tons of tables, literal or metaphorical.
Come to the table to eat, to make peace, to savor food and friendship. Sharing food together is healthy for the body and it is healthy for the soul.