When my kids were little, they attended a faith-based school. It was small. There was no lunch room. The food for snacks and lunch had to be packed at home every day and sent in a lunch box. Human nature being what it is, those lunch boxes sometimes got left at home, or in the car, or on the bus. Then you had a hungry kid and no place to buy food for them. Each of the teachers had a different way of dealing with this possibility, because it did happen.
The kindergarten teacher kept a bowl, and the child who had no lunch box had to take the bowl around to his or her classmates and accept what they wished to give out of their lunch. This happened once when it was Grandparents Day, so my mother was there. She was bothered by the fact that it was voluntary. She felt that no one should be allowed to get away with being selfish, that every child should be made to share some of their lunch. But we all know that acts of generosity are authentic only when they are undertaken of our own free will, so that’s how it went in this classroom. That day and all the days that it happened, the child who forgot the lunch box had enough to eat. Everybody had enough to eat. There was enough. I think of this as a miracle, actually, a human miracle.
Let me explain that. I had a seminary professor who gave us a definition of miracle as an unexpected event that brings us into the presence of God. I really like that. In the case of these kids, it’s unexpected that kids, that anybody, would share their lunch just because some other kid had no lunch. Presumably—although I remember what a challenge it was to pack those lunch boxes—presumably you’d put in there what your kid liked and would eat to get through the day.
Anytime we see that kind of self-giving generosity, it has to remind us of the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. In that sense, I think it does bring us into the presence of God.
Today, we have a story. It’s the one that’s commonly known as The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. It’s a story of a divine miracle. Jesus is out. He goes up the mountain, presumably seeking a little solitude up there, but again the crowds follow him. They’ve seen and heard what he’s been doing for the sick. They want to be with him. They want to see this. Maybe they even come to be healed themselves.
He looks up and he sees a huge crowd coming. Even before they know it, he knows that they’re going to be hungry. He asks, “What are we going to do?” knowing what he’s going to do. Andrew tells him about the boy with the five loaves and the two fishes. Jesus takes that food, meager as it is for a crowd that size. He takes it, he gives thanks, and he distributes it. As we know, when everybody’s eaten as much as they want and he sends around baskets to collect what’s left over, there are twelve baskets left.
That’s a divine miracle. The difference between a divine miracle and a human miracle is it’s logical that those kids could share enough of their food for their classmate to be fed. There were sixteen to twenty kids, one of whom was hungry. No problem. But in this case, the divine part of the miracle is the absolute abundance, and we know that’s characteristic of God and God’s giving—that there will be not only enough, but more than enough.
We go through this cycle. It’s a three-year cycle, so every three years, this reading crops up again. Every three years, we find ourselves, as we do this summer, at a place where we are going to read up from John’s sixth chapter about the bread of life. We’re going to be doing this for five weeks starting today. Talk about abundance, talk about more than enough. We start with this story about the miracle.
I almost never—I preached on this, you may or may not remember, three years ag—I almost never go back to my sermons even if I think you wouldn’t remember them. Because every time I read a story like this, something occurs to me that I didn’t notice before. And this time, I found myself thinking about that boy with the six barley loaves and the two fishes. Five barley loaves, sorry. Rewriting the Gospel.
And what I’m wondering is, what was that kid doing with all that food? Was he the only one who brought food up that mountain, who had the presence of mind to think that they were going to be hungry. Or was he given that food to take somewhere else? Was he maybe traveling himself? Or was he the only one who was willing to share? Maybe there was more food that people held back and he said, “Sure, you can have it.” Was there fear and concern in his heart that maybe, having planned ahead that way, maybe he wouldn’t end up getting anything to eat anyway? We don’t know the answers, really, to any of those questions.
I looked at the commentaries to see if anybody had an opinion, and he doesn’t get any mention at all, even though in some ways he’s the minor hero of this story. But they come, and he does give over his five loaves and two fishes. And Jesus takes them and gives thanks and distributes them. It’s a miracle of abundance.
I wonder what he said when he got home. I wonder how he was changed by this. Did he go home and say, “What I learned today is that whenever we trust our needs to God, we will have enough. We will have more than enough.” What did he do after that day in his life? Again, we’ll never know, but it’s something to think about.
So these stories from the gospel that we read again and again, we read exactly because we’re always learning from them. We’re always learning new lessons. We’re always seeing new things, and so we read in the church again and again, and in our own personal devotions. This is a story that’s meant to be read, but really it’s a story—it’s like a script—it’s a story that’s meant for us to act out ourselves, and so we do every week, and actually more than every week in our lives.. And we learn the lessons in acting out, and taking it in, in digesting the meaning of it over time, and it becomes something that shapes our whole lives.
So what does a life that’s shaped by a Eucharist look like? I thought of a couple of things. I’m sure we can have a discussion that would go on for a while about that, but I thought of a couple of things in the context of this gospel.
One is that trust, that trust that there will be enough, that it is a divine miracle and yet our willingness to open ourselves and share is a human miracle that really is a participation in it. We learn the lesson that there will be enough in God’s abundance. And what would the world look like if we really, really believed that?
We learn that we’re all the same in that neediness. We’re all the same in our hunger. We are all hungry, everyone in the world, and not one of us has the ability to answer that hunger, to feed ourselves without God’s grace. We’re all the same in that.
And when we share and when we open up, we always begin by giving thanks. The first step is always giving thanks, giving thanks even when it appears that there might not be enough. At faith enrichment time, we’re going to be talking about fear and how people deal with fear particularly in cases of illness, severe illness, and in death. And one of the things that’s a pattern in the lives of people who navigate those things in a meaningful way is that even in the worst of it, they never stop giving thanks.
I guess finally: when we have consumed this meal—I said we’re all the same because we began hungry—when we’ve consumed this meal, again, gathering around the table, we are all the same at the end because we all become bearers of Christ.
When we put our hands and give thanks and open our very selves to this bread, we know the presence of Christ and we become in the presence of Christ in a world that is still so hungry for it. Amen.