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Sermon on the feeding of the 5,000

Sermon for Ordinary 17 by Rev Canon Charles Royden

The feeding of the 5,000


John 6:1-2

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Today we have the feeding of the multitude, it is a grand miracle and the only one recorded by all of the Gospels, a fact that speaks loudly of its importance to the early church.
Note - The Feeding of the Five Thousand is recorded in Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17, and John 6:1-14. The Feeding of the Four Thousand is recorded in Matthew 15:32-39 and Mark 8:1-10.

The feeding reminds us of Elisha's feeding miracle in 2 Kings 4:42-44.

  • Elisha had only twenty barley loaves to feed a hundred people.
  • He ordered his servant to distribute the bread
  • The servant protested, "How can I set this before a hundred people?"
  • Elisha said "They shall eat and have some left."
  • The servant distributed the bread; the people ate -- and there was bread left over in accord with the promise.
  • The linkage between the stories is made even tighter by the reference to barley loaves in John 6:9.

These feedings also remind us of Moses

  • Remember the manna in the wilderness (Exod 16; Num 11).
  • Like Moses, Jesus has crossed over the water to the wilderness.
  • Like Moses, he is surrounded by hungry people.
  • Moses goes up a mountain, Jesus goes up a mountain
  • People followed Moses, people followed Jesus,
  • But Moses brought plagues, Jesus brings abundance and healings
  • The Gospel writers want to show Jesus is more than Moses.

They were signs
The first thing to remember is that the writer of the Book of John wants to show that Jesus did miracles but they were so much more than just clever tricks - he calls them signs.

Don’t go away this morning learning that Jesus fed lots of people from a few tiny loaves
Remember what John said towards the end of his gospel. He states his purpose for writing quite clearly,

"Jesus performed many other signs as well, signs not recorded here, in the presence of his disciples. But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith, you may have life in his name" (20: 30-31).

So the feeding is identified as a "sign," one of seven pre-crucifixion "signs" in the fourth gospel.  Seven is the number of completion and wholeness.  Therefore, the seven signs in the fourth gospel give us a complete picture of Jesus. The feeding of the 5000 is the fourth of these seven pre-resurrection "signs."  

The Gospel writers tell us about miracles because they want us to see something deeper about who Jesus really is.

If we have the eyes of faith we will look at the sign and see that it tells us something really important about who Jesus really is

The facts that they were signs does not in any way suggest that they really did not happen.
John leaves us in no doubt that miracles were taking place and because of this a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick

After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself

The crowd were under no illusion that Jesus had multiplied the food. They just jumped to the conclusion that this meant Jesus would make a better king than the Romans. The people liked the idea of a miracle worker, they were less inclined to look for the deeper spiritual meaning. Neither the crowd, nor the Gospel writers who reported the events thought that Jesus had given a lesson in sharing. Make no mistake, to imagine that this was a triumphant lesson in generosity misses the whole impact of the reports which the Gospel writers deliver to us.

Miraculous physical events demonstrated amazing spiritual truths, take away the miracle and the sign is diminished.

You have to get past the sign and look at what it is saying about how special Jesus is !

So it was that -

The raising of the dead Lazarus therefore was a physical event with a message that Jesus was the way the truth and the life.
The healing of the blind man shows Jesus as the light of the World
Turning water into wine showed Jesus as the true vine

The problem for Jesus as we see in our stories was not persuading people about the veracity of his miracles, but in getting them to see past the miracles to the deeper meaning.

These are miraculous events, but they are much more than that they are intended to lead us deeper than the mere surface events themselves.

It was Passover

We are told this simple detail but it is significant
Passover was a time when the Jewish people remembered that God had saved them from oppression and slavery
This episode took place in Galilee. Galilee was a poor place.
The boy gives his meagre resources but he gives all that he has on of his poverty. This was barley bread - the food of the poor. Barley bread was cheaper than wheat bread.
This was away from the wealth of Jerusalem. Galileans were not highly regarded, they had accents, they felt downtrodden, they were oppressed and living like slaves in their own land. They were considered to be insignificant but Jesus is prepared to take time out with them not in Jerusalem.
Jesus takes time to show that they matter, that God acknowledges their condition.
They are hungry physically but they are also hungry to know that God cares. They have a physical hunger but they also have a spiritual hunger.

Jesus feeds the crowds and he collects the left overs

You cannot read this miracle story and leave this morning unaffected by the fact that we waste so much food and the hungry have nothing to eat.
Those who want us to keep religion out of politics are just going to have to get used to the fact that the Gospels, the teachings and actions of Jesus mandate his followers to care for those who are hungry.
Of course the twelve is going to recall the twelve tribes of Israel. The new Israel is centred on Jesus not the tribes

Lets think for a minute on the contrast between that little boy and the disciples

1. Philip
Jesus open with a question to Philip about where "we" will get enough food for the approaching crowd. John tells us quite plainly, Jesus is "testing" his disciples. The story has us focus on how the disciples will respond to this test and what Jesus' own response will be.
Philip answered him,
“Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Philip couldn’t do the miraculous because he focused on what he didn’t have – not what he did have. This is a can’t do attitude.
Philip is trapped behind a wall of can’t do. When confronted with a big task he tells Jesus all he can’t do and never once thinks to ask Jesus what he can do.
Philip’s is aware of his own inadequacy rather than remembering the overwhelming resources of Jesus
So we have to ask the question of ourselves -
How do I respond to the size of the needs around me? Am I like Philip? Do I look at how little I have, or do I think how much God has?
Do I say; “The problem is too big for my limited resources,” and then hope that the crowd goes away? Or do I ask for God’s strength to help me to expect great things from God.

2. Andrew
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Andrew again is not blind or indifferent to the needs around and wants to address them, however he cannot see the miraculous provision of God

3. The little boy
So we are left with the offering of a little boy. I don’t know whether this little chap actually wanted to give his food. Did Andrew search out anybody who had food. Was the boy coerced?
we are not told exactly but what is clear is that the boy had the small offering and it was not withheld.
The fact of life is that Jesus Christ needs what we can bring Him. We may not have much to bring but He needs what we have.

Conclusion
We are called to an impossible task our world faces huge challenges, each day you and I face challenges which seem to much for our meagre resources.
We need to be prepared to say to God, this is all that I have but what I have is yours.
I cannot do what is needed to be done in my own strength but I know that you will give me what I need to accomplish your will.
Somebody once said
‘Let go and let God’
It is that recognition that our own abilities are not going to enable us to do the stuff that God wants from us.
God can take the smallest gift and when we give sincerely of that smallness God grows our gift into something much bigger

The disciples were tested, but we are tested too. We face the many needs of family, friends, church, world and perhaps we too like Philip feel overwhelmed.
‘How shall we feed them’
Don’t we all make that same cry in prayer to God ?
How can I do this?
Doing the work, living the life which God has set before us may seem hard.
But we, like the disciples, need to believe that Jesus walks with us.

We do not do it on our own.
When the disciples face a storm alone, their fear threatens to sink them, but when they realise that Jesus is with them, they find the way to land safely.
When we trust in God we can believe that
through us he can feed crowds,
we can navigate storms,
and we can discover different ways to not confined to our own self-interest

The challenge to us this week it this
Risk believing in God and trust that he will bring you through the storm and use your worthless little offering you have and use it to create abundance