Feeding of Five Thousand

Sermon at St James, Colwall, 2 August 2020

From time to time my mother would have to organise with a group of ladies large lunch parties and she used to refer to these events as the feeding of the five thousand. She certainly never fed five thousand but I can tell you that the food left over would sometimes have filled twelve baskets. She, like many others of us always over-catered and it does look as though Jesus also over-catered in that desert place in the Galilean hills.

The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand – our Gospel reading for today - is so well known to us it is difficult to look at it afresh with new eyes.

What do you make of it, I wonder?

The first thing to say is that it is the only miracle to be recorded in all four gospels which surely gives it an authenticity which is difficult to question. So those various attempts in the past to explain it in terms of everyone sharing their picnics etc would have been dismissed by the gospel writers as feeble attempts to diminish the importance of the event. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John saw this as a major miraculous event in the ministry of Jesus.

The second thing to say is that everyone around Jesus would have known of the incident when Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and, when they were short of food, manna, bread from heaven was provided for them. Jesus, the new Moses, is the new provider, perhaps.

At the heart of the story is Jesus’ concern for the crowds that have followed him. He is aware of their needs before the disciples were and it is his compassion which stands out and compassion is all about sensing the needs of others at an early stage. It’s not pity or anything condescending like that; it’s an awareness of what others are feeling and thinking and needing and Jesus had this in abundance.

Then when the disciples despair about how little they have – ‘we have nothing here but five loaves and two fish’ – he takes what they have and makes something of it and what seemed impossible became possible. Our life of faith has surely shown us how Jesus takes our contribution, our limited talents and gifts and has made something of them – more than we could have managed on our own. He takes our gifts and magnifies them in a way in which we can only look back on with thankfulness and amazement.

So he takes the loaves and the fish, looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves and gives them to the disciples who give them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. Echoes here of the father in a Jewish household saying grace over the bread and breaking it, but even louder echoes for us of the Last Supper and of this Eucharist, this communion service which we are presently sharing with each other and with Jesus. We shall eat and be satisfied as those crowds were.

It is then not surprising that when John, the last evangelist, presents this miraculous story in his gospel he has Jesus say quite simply afterwards, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry; and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”