s129g97 Somerton Park 27/7/97 Pentecost 10 Sunday 17
"Jesus ... 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." John 6:11-12.
The miracle of the loaves and the fish was perhaps not in the number of people fed by the ridiculously small quantity of food the boy donated, but in the fact that after everyone who had eaten "as much as they wanted ... were satisfied" ... if for ever so brief a moment. There was for a short time a sense of peace, that all was well. They knew their stomachs were full, but perhaps hadn't realised that that feeling of contentment was shared by absolutely everyone there. But as the truth dawned on them - the contentment vanished.
It could well be argued that the crowds, in wanting to take Jesus to make him king, were acting from purely altruistic motives. Why should they alone feel this contentment? They wanted others to share it too. Isn't such sharing of the essence of Christianity? Jesus words in Matthew 25, the parable of the wise and foolish maidens are indeed startling: "The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' (Matthew 25:8-9). So too the message to share is not what we are meant to derive from this reading.
It may also be that the crowds, in wanting to make Jesus king, were acting from more selfish motives - rather akin to the response of the Samaritan woman at the well, who "said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." (John 4:15). There are indeed problems and tasks that all of us would rather be relieved of, yet Jesus flees the crowd. Simply relieving us of the normal daily grind that one and all of us face, is to regard Jesus as our personal servant, there simply to take away these sorts of things from our lives. It is hardly that for which he was sent.
I spoke last week about the unconditional acceptance, rest and healing Jesus brings to people. These things result in our being satisfied. Jesus continues to bring the same unconditional acceptance, rest and healing to other people too. God doesn't need our help to do that, we only need not get in God's way.
The message of these two miracles - the feeding of the 5000 and the stilling of the storm, tell us that God is active. Despite all our fears to the contrary, God is still in charge and is still active. While we may well rant and rave that God's universe is not structured in the way we would like it, that it is unfair and out of our own personal control, these two miracles bid us question if that is God's assessment.
The daily grind, hunger and storms continue to exist. While I was on holidays I read a commentary on the first 11 chapters of the book Genesis. The author spoke of the murder of Abel by Cain and the conversations God had with Cain. Whoever first wrote the words in Genesis somehow came to the conclusion that God did not have regard for Cain's offering, but we are given no explanations as to why. In the end it doesn't really matter, for whether God did or didn't, God was still there being with Cain even after murdering his brother, trying to help Cain through his disappointment, guilt and sentence.
Whatever our lot in life, whether our existence seems easy or hard, God is with us, helping us through. This is the same message as the feeding of the 5000 and the stilling of the storm. Whoever we are, whatever we have done or not done, whatever faith we have or not have, in whatever predicament we find ourselves in, God is there to help us through.
Sometimes God will work through others, and I as much as anyone else, struggle to accept help from others. It is not a competition.
In this particular version it is said that Jesus did the distribution of the blessed loaves and fish. The other evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, have the disciples doing the distribution. But in John, the only useful thing the disciples do is gather the scraps left over! The sovereignty of Jesus is more clearly portrayed.
And in the story of the stilling of the storm, we are told the disciples wanted to "take him into the boat" but that too was unnecessary, as "immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going".
Have we yet reached the place to which we we are going? There is then no other message but the complete sovereignty of God ever present (not to change the course of creation or human affairs into our own perceptions of what they should be, let alone to be our personal slaves, relieving us of any responsibility) but there to accept us as we are, to give us rest and healing, to feed, and in the process, to still the storm raging around us.
We are left with the disciples and Syrophoenician woman begging Jesus to heal her sick daughter - gathering up the crumbs that fall from the master's table. But what a gathering! Twelve basket loads! We can only conclude that God's blessings overflow, and abound well beyond any boundaries that we might humanly assume God has.
These words is said not to put us into our rightful place, grovelling on the floor, but to again understand the little we need to do in comparison to the greatness of what God does. For us to understand and to reassure us that no more is ever required of us. We don't have to get Jesus elected as Prime Minister or King. We don't have to change the world, or badger everyone else to make ours into a Christian nation.
I don't like being in the storm, I don't like hunger and thirst, I don't like what often seems an unjust and unfair society. I struggle to see God at work, and all sorts of things get in the way - simple tiredness, loneliness, frustration, grief and depression. But none of us are ever to know what these things would be like without the help the ever present God gives ever so gently.
The words of the prophet Isaiah come to mind: "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins." (Isaiah 40:1-2). The greatest penalty in the end is not knowing that God is there, or the feeling that one is excluded from that mercy.
The greatest gift is our faith, be it ever so frail, in that sovereignty of God, and the mercy which is everlasting and for one and all.
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