A reflection on 2 Kings 4:42-44, John 6:1-21 by The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy
God take our minds and think through them.
Take my lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and set them on fire for You
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
It all starts simply enough, this story John has for us this morning, just another trip across the Sea of Galilee for Jesus and the disciples. A crowd is following them. This has become commonplace, for the word is out on Jesus. He has compassion for the sick and heals them. Who wouldn’t want to follow this rabbi and teacher? Five thousand of them are there were we are told. That’s a lot of people. Out here we don’t even see that many people in one place very often! Jesus has a concern for them…that they be fed. He asks Philip where they are going to buy bread for that crowd. I can imagine myself in Phillip’s place feeling some panic. Wanting so desperately to get it right but just not being able to come up with a solution. Even six months wages wouldn’t feed this crowd! And I can imagine myself in Andrew’s place as well…thinking helpfully, doing my human best….”well there is that boy with the two fish and the five barley loaves….” I always wondered if Peter gave him “the look” when he said that. You know the one brothers give you when you say something really out there…..and maybe Andrew wished he hadn’t said anything just then. But we’re told that Jesus simply asks the crowd to sit, and he takes those loaves and those fish and gives thanks and passes them around to the crowd. Everyone eats until they are satisfied, and when they are finished, John tells us “… from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.” A miracle. Undoubtedly, yes. On that day, in that place God through Jesus worked a miracle.
Our temptation as rational post-enlightenment twenty-first century people is to get very caught up in the “how” of this, to focus on what happened there that day. Did Jesus really multiply those loaves and fishes…. or was it a miracle of generosity as some have suggested…. the people in the crowd really did have food tucked away and somehow just being in Jesus’ presence caused them to be willing to open their hearts to share it with one another instead of keeping what they had to themselves? Because that too, could be a miracle.
The truth of the matter is we do not know what happened there on that hillside that day. As people of faith, we know that miracles of all sorts can and do happen. God's power is of course "far more than all we can ask or imagine," as we heard this morning in Ephesians. The danger of course is if we get stuck in trying to figure out what happened, we might miss the point of what it really is all about.
We have moved from the Gospel of Mark where we have been spending time these last several weeks into the Gospel of John. Mark told us over and over in any way he could the story of “the good news* of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” John’s Gospel, which tends to be more mystical, has as one of its themes the incredible abundance of God and God’s love. In his first chapter, John speaks about Jesus as the Word from whose fullness we have all received grace upon grace. And remember, this is the Gospel that tells us “God so loved the world…..” John is full of stories that remind us about God’s abundance. Early on he tells the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus instructs the servants to fill some jars with water, and the result is an abundance of good wine. John also offers us the story of Jesus offering the Samaritan woman living water and transformation. This time we have the example of a life itself made more abundant. Later in the Gospel, as he prepares to leave his disciples, Jesus says that in addition to everything he has shared about God and God’s love, there is such abundance to all of this that there wouldn't be enough space in the world to contain the number of books that would be needed to write it. There is even a point where Jesus makes a very direct point about this subject, saying, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
Sometimes though, as it was for the disciples, it’s really hard for us to just believe this. We try very hard to explain, to understand. We are so used to thinking small, it really stretches us to simply accept the notion that this prodigious and amazing abundance of grace and love is just given to us, that in God’s world there is enough and that what we have to do is open ourselves to receive it with an open heart, and when we do….miracles really can happen.
The crowd saw in Jesus a good candidate for a king. Someone to save them from their perpetual cycle of bad leadership. They saw in him someone who could provide. Food. Compassion. Healing. Mercy and Justice. A way out of their worldly oppression. Their vision of him of course was way too small. Even the disciples could not yet quite grasp who and what was before them, try though Jesus might to help them get the bigger picture. Jesus knew that he had come into being as the one who was to show them both who God was and who they as God’s beloved creatures could be. Jesus knows who and who he is. He has the vision of God’s abundance that we struggle to grasp and hold. In order to avoid their attempts at forced kingship, he flees.
And we get another miracle. It’s dark, the disciples are out in the boat and the sea, as it says in an alternate translation “was awakened” in all its stormy, windy glory. Suddenly the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they are terrified. But he says to them (again from this alternative translation, “I AM WHO I AM; do not be afraid.” He is in essence telling them very clearly, “I am God, you really can trust me to take this one on.” And apparently, they got it, for we are told that they wanted him in the boat and they immediately got to the place they were going…..in essence “all was well” in as God reminded them of another kind of abundance.
And sometimes for us too….. Back in October of 2006, less than a month after my ordination, I was at my first Diocesan convention, and I was fascinated and awed by the movement of the Spirit in the work of the church. I was also going through a bit of “post-ordination formation” as God did a bit of God’s work in my life. The first night of convention I had a dream. In the dream, I met a man dressed as a shepherd. I can still see his rough linen tunic, the leather belt with the knife in a scabbard, his sandals, the dirt on his feet and under his nails. The man spoke to me in the dream. He said, "My plan is for you to have more abundant life." I must have looked blank, because he put his hands on his hips and said it again more forcefully. Apparently I still did not look like I was registering, because he stomped his foot and said it a third time… with feeling. In the days since, there have been an amazing number of opportunities to recall that shepherd and his message of God’s abundant outpouring of love and life and grace and my need to receive it.
God has a dream of abundant life for all of us. Most of the time we are with Phillip and Andrew and the rest of them, thinking that it’s all in our hands and forgetting that miracles do happen and that God’s amazing grace and abundance is there simply waiting for us to open ourselves to receive it. But like the people on the hillside that day, our miracle too is there for the taking….able to accomplish abundantly by his power at work within us far more than we can ever ask or imagine. Amen.