Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
Growing the Kingdom
Today’s gospel reading is somewhat unique in that it appears in all four gospels. It would seem that it was of key importance to all the gospel writers. And given the crowds that often followed Jesus it may well have happened on multiple occasions during His ministry.
We also switch from the gospel for the lectionary year, Mark, a dynamic and fast gospel, to the more reflective and spiritual gospel of John for several Sunday’s at this time of the year.
The gospel reading starts with Jesus and the disciples crossing to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, going up a mountainside and sitting down. Looking up, they see a large crowd of people who have followed them.
Jesus then turns to Philip and says, ‘How are we going to feed this lot then?’ that Philip responds that even more than 6 months’ salary wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface for the sandwich bill for the crowd. .
You might at least have expected Philip to say (as we might) that it was nothing to do with them; they hadn’t invited the people to follow them. It’s a bit like asking Danny Boyle during the opening ceremony of the Olympics how he was going to feed the crowd too. He would have probably responded that feeding the crowd was not part of his brief.
Or, having just witnessed Jesus perform some amazing healings, we might imagine Philip would be feeling pretty positive and confident in the ability of Jesus to deal with any situation that was put before Him and would have responded that he was sure Jesus could ‘sort something out’.
But he doesn’t. He doesn’t even as why Jesus is asking the question, which at least would have been an understandable, and perhaps logical question for Philip to ask.
Fortunately, John sets the scene for the exchange. He reminds us that it was near the time of the Passover, which recalls not only how God passed over the Israelites during the last of the plagues but how God fed them in their time in the wilderness before they entered into the promised land.
The people following Jesus were in the wilderness, and were just about to be fed.
Jesus takes what is offered and feeds the multitude. You can image the people thinking, ‘That’s never going to be enough; will there be enough for me…’ But there was - and there was lots left over.
This is good stuff, the people think; let’s make Jesus our King. He’ll show the Romans a thing or two. They could think that the people who were seemingly physically healed might not have been sick; but conjuring food out of mid-air, even the later day Dynamo the magician would find that difficult
But that’s not what Jesus is here for so He withdraws and sometime later the disciples start crossing the lake where they get themselves into a storm.
Jesus comes to them and says simply, ‘I am, don’t be afraid’. The God who is in human form on earth, the ‘I am’, who is interacting with His creation is here. The ‘I am’ who runs through and underpins John’s entire gospel is here. The ‘I am’ who has come to transform and redeem the world is here.
And it’s as if the disciples begin to get it. The coming of God’s Kingdom is more than just meeting the current physical needs of people on earth, although that’s certainly part of it, it’s about the spiritual dimension of being redeemed and transformed and passing over into a completely new world with a new way of looking at the things of eternity.
God does want to meet with us at the physical level and He does care about our human situations. That’s why we have services such as today’s service of Holy Communion with Prayer for Christian Healing.
But he also cares about our spiritual condition, our redemption and our eternal condition.
Sometimes we get very focused on our physical needs but forget about the importance of our spiritual life and well being.
How many of our prayers, for example, are for physical things, either for ourselves of for others? Not that this is completely wrong, but surely our prayers should also have a spiritual perspective and dimension to them too. A perspective beyond the immediate.
How often do we get too focused and worried that even with material things about whether there will be enough to go around, will we get our fair share, and will there be enough for me? (That must have been going through the minds of some of the crowd as the food was passed around!)
In God’s economy there is always enough to go around from His abundant riches. There is always plenty, and there are always possibilities and opportunities. But to realise those opportunities, to share in those riches we need to take Paul’s advice to the Ephesians
To be rooted and grounded in Christ and not wrapped up in our own needs and desires. To be strengthened through the power of His spirit so that Christ will dwell in our hearts so that we may know the riches that He has in store for each one of us.
Like the Olympics, after the opening ceremony we don’t know what the future may bring. But Christ is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever think or ask.
His provision exceeds all our needs.