Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Loaves and the Fishes: Occupy Galilee

Matthew 15:20-39

This is my favorite of all of the miracles Jesus performed during his lifetime. This and the story of the wine casks in John – when Jesus is asked to provide wine and turns dozens of gallons of water into the finest wine at a wedding.  I love these stories because they remind us that our God is a God of abundance.  And that is such an important message that we can’t say it enough.

But the story of the loaves and the fishes is unique. It is the only miracle story recounted in all four Gospels.  In fact, it is told six times in the gospels.  Some scholars think that indicates that the event, or some kind of event actually took place – not metaphorically, not allegorically – actually… that there was an event of feeding a mass of people in the wilderness.  In Jesus’ time and, as in this text, in the wilderness, food would be scarce and the people would be pretty desperate – to feed such a crowd would be a feat worthy of recording at least six times.  

The people following Jesus have been three days without anything to eat.  They came to be healed and have miracles performed for them, their motivation was great, but it has been three days and they are probably in pretty bad shape.  They are in a crowd of four thousand men and untold numbers of women and children.  They have come for miraculous healing, so at least when they started out they were injured or ill or in pain.  And they have remained in faith and subject to the elements for three days and nights.  They are, we can safely say, a profoundly wretched bunch.

And they are starving.
But they are also faithful - for in their time with him, they have been made whole, cured, made well.

So, what does Jesus do? He has compassion on them. He takes what resources are present, blesses them. There are seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.

Seven loaves and a few fishes is probably just enough to feed himself and his 12 Apostles. There is no way it can make a dent in the needs of the four thousand. But Jesus and his party put them into seven baskets and hand them out into the crowd.

Now, it doesn’t say he magically magnified the food as he did with the wine in John. There is no indication in any of the six versions of the story that he did anything more than bless the bread for their consumption. So, without a miraculous incantation, how on earth did those seven baskets of food feed four thousand plus people?

Well, it has been suggested that certain of the people, when they saw how little food there was and that it was meant to feed so many, didn’t take any.  They decided they did not need any and let the less fortunate have some. 

Maybe there were some who had neighbors nearby and the promise of a good meal very soon. Some may have brought food of their own and let the basket pass by them,  some may even have put food from their pockets into the basket as it went by.

In any case, at the end of the story, the baskets make their way back to the Apostles with food remaining in them. 
37And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 

The obvious modern application of this text is Occupy Wall Street.  It seems clear to our Loaves and Fishes Informed eyes that the top 1% of Americans need to spread their wealth more evenly among the 99% who are not as privileged.  Clearly, they need to put their loaves into baskets with a blessing and send them off into their communities.

But that isn’t the lesson of the Loaves and the Fishes, is it?  I mean, the miracle was not that Jesus and the disciples were generous enough to put their wealth in a basket and send it out into the world. That is what we would expect from the Messiah and his apostles.

The miracle was that the 99% were able to share it.  No one horded, no one jealously guarded, no one cheated, and further, many people must have replicated the initial act of generosity in order for the food to go as far as it did. 

Do you think if we sent seven baskets of money into the crowd of 4,000 at an Occupy Demonstration, that they would come back with change in them? I confess, I doubt it.

So what is the difference between the 4,000 in Galilee and the 4,000 in the financial district?
The 4,000 in Galilee had come to see the Messiah in faith.  They believed in him, in his ability to heal and to set things right.  They believed that his actions were motivated by love and that his teaching was the truth.  They believed that everything would be alright.  They had faith. Not just faith in Jesus, faith in God. A God of abundance.

The demonstrators at Occupy don’t have that confidence. They have a scarcity ethic: “there isn’t going to be enough”, “I won’t get what I need, if I choose moderation now, I may starve later.”

So, the miracle Jesus performed in Galilee was not that he magnified the resources, it was that he replaced the crowd’s fear with confidence. He replaced their insecurity with generosity.  He replaced their desperation with faith in a good and gracious and abundant God.  And when he did that, he set them free.

Absent their insecurity, the crowd was able to be generous.
Absent their fear, they did not panic and hoard.
Absent their doubt, they were filled with faith in an abundant God and the ability to live out his commandments with courage and conviction.

And, it tells us, everyone went away full.  

The Miracle of the loaves and the fishes didn’t happen in the bread baskets, it happened in the hearts and minds of the people who knew and loved Christ.  That is worth repeating six times because not only is it amazing, it is timeless.  It can happen today.  It should happen today.

We have, at Christ Church, a ministry called Christmas Angels, in which Christ Church families “adopt” less privileged families, provide for them for Christmas, wrap the gifts and sometimes give a little extra as well.

This year, because some supporting agencies were unable to take their usual number and because more families than ever are in need, we at Christ Church have taken on 60 new families – large families.

Now, this is a lean year for many of us.  We none of us are able to give as generously to our loved ones during the season as we would like.  We none of us are able to fulfill the dreams or fill the stockings the way we had hoped to be able to.  We have only enough for our own Christmas this year, and not even enough to do that properly.

We have only the seven loaves and a few fishes for our whole family.  How can we be expected to share it with 3,995 other people?

Well, we don’t have to share it with 3,995 other people.  We have to share it with one other family.  We have to reach into our pockets and say, “I have enough for me and mine. Let me leave in this basket for you, what I do not need.”

“Because God is good and bountiful, I can afford – no I am privileged to be able to – extend His bounty to you.”

In our hearts, we may be afraid and insecure. We may secretly embody a scarcity ethic. But we also know and we believe in that super abundant God who miraculously fills wine casks and bread baskets.

Now, this isn’t a “prosperity Gospel”: it doesn’t tell us that if we pray for a pool we’ll get a pool. It isn’t really about material things at all.

It is about being faithful to the God in whose image we are made, remembering and believing in the Messiah in whose footsteps we are meant to walk and embodying the Holy Spirit, and being her hands and feet in the world.

I we can do that: remember, believe, be…

We can all walk away fulfilled.