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More than Just a Meal, More than just a Miracle. [1]

Pentecost 8, Common Lectionary Year A

Matthew 14:13-21

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Audio file

“One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine activity for tens of millions… except that up until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything. …. it led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and work I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out not to be a symbolic wafer at all, but actual food – indeed the bread of life.”[2]

So begins one of the most astonishing, refreshing and compelling books I’ve ever read; Take this Bread,  by Sara Miles. These words “it changed everything” kept rumbling through my spiritual subconscious when I read this Gospel, and began to prepare this sermon.  Eating with Jesus changes everything.

To those who sat and ate with Jesus from a basket of five loaves and two fish, and to those who in later generations sat down to record this collective memory in their Gospels, eating with Jesus changed everything. I say that because the miracle of the feeding of the multitude is the only miracle all four Gospellers record. That’s hugely significant.

Eating with Jesus was more than just a meal; and more than just a miracle. It changed, changes everything.

How so? Familiarity with this story may well dampen its power, impact, significance  for us. We know the elements perhaps too well: – a wilderness, – a crowd, of men, women, children, – the end of the day, – no depanneur, food trucks, no drive- thrus. – Disciples with more pragmatic realism than spiritual imagination urging Jesus to do the sensible thing and send them all home. – A nonchalant Jesus, using monosyllables to tell his followers to do the impossible: “You feed them.” – Five loaves, two fish, – all fed. – 12 baskets left over.

It was- any way you look at it,  a miracle. Doesn’t matter if you believe it happened just the way Matthew tells it, with a miraculous multiplication of grain and flesh, either by Jesus, or those disciples, through the power of God’s grace; or whether your understanding of this story is a miraculous multiplication of human generosity. The bottom line is this ; it was not just any meal to be quickly forgotten in the next day’s inexorably subsistent search for more food. This one they remembered. It was the meal that changed all meals. It changed everything.

The way Matthew tells it, this feeding of the multitude was a no- going- back- moment. A disruption of social, political and religious convention of such magnitude, such significance that Jesus’ life, and the lives of his disciples, Gospellers, followers, doubters, even detractors, have been defined by it ever since.

For in this simple act of taking loaves and fishes, and feeding a multitude of hungry people, Jesus let the world know, let the Roman Empire know, let the religious authorities of his day know, let every empire since know, including the global economic empire of today know that there’s another Kingdom at work in this world. A whole other way of seeing the world, and of inhabiting the world is at work; a Way  Jesus called “the kingdom of God” what we here call “the Dream of God.” God’s Dream of just abundance and abundant justice showered upon, poured upon a good, rich, abundant earth, for the blessing of all God’s creatures.   A ridiculous, impossible dream to us mere mortals, perhaps, for we all know that the world as we inhabit it, and as we have shaped it, ain’t that good. Its abundance isn’t shared; its wealth is in the hands of far too few; and its terrors are meted out on far too many. Millions are starving, drinking foul water, dying from treatable as well as untreatable diseases; and a century after the “war to end all wars,” began, we are living in a world with no end to war.

But then, again, Jesus’ world, the Judean landscape, the political realities of Roman Empire and its impact on the indigenous population was no less war- and starvation –ravaged than it is now. The wealth of Rome was in the hands of too few, its terrors meted out on too many.

And it was into this impossible world of hunger,  physical hunger, spiritual hunger, and starvation for justice and dignity hunger, that Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave five loaves, two fish to his disciples and said, “Feed them.” …. For this one moment, this one meal, the world in its wilderness was fed, five loaves and two fish were enough. God’s Dream, for this one miracle meal, was as flesh- and- bone real as pita and lake fish. Eating with Jesus changed everything.

By bread, Jesus gives a multitude a living breathing human taste of what it means to be fed by the generosity of God. By sucking fish flesh from fingers, the taste of justice becomes salty, real in the collective memory of those who eat with Jesus.

We are no longer satisfied to be starved, nor to see others starved by the unequal sharing of God’s generous abundance. Eating with Jesus, we are changed. We hear those simple words of Jesus, “You feed them.” And we wonder, “Do we dare?” “What if?” What if there’s enough for all?

What if there is another story about the world than the one we hear on the news? What if there is a just solution for Israel /Palestine, for Ukraine/Russia, for Syria? What if God’s Dream sees a bright future for aboriginal peoples?

What if God’s Dream of children fed, educated, safe and warm, is possible for Talibé children as well as our own? What if colour, sexual identity, different abilities, language diversity, are truly celebrated as evidence of God’s creative complexity? What if, health, immigration, and refugee,  old age security policies can be seen as the sharing of abundance rather than the rationing of scarce resources?[3] What if it really is a Gospel call from Jesus to “prevent poverty”, protect the environment, support empower the marginalised, even if governments decide such activity is overly “political”?[4]   What if it really is as simple, as ridiculously simple as Jesus suggests? That to live the Dream of God is to go to the hungry where they are, and feed them?

I could say so much more…. but let me leave it here: That’s why we do this, every month, together. We remember this miracle meal, and that last meal of Jesus; We take bread, we pick it up in our hands, we dip it into some juice or wine, we let it invade our senses with smell and taste, we let it mingle with our own flesh, we eat with Jesus. And it changes. Everything. Even us.

[1] “More than a Miracle” is inspired by the title used by Karoline Lewis in a recent post on Working Preacher.com. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3293. She takes it in a different direction, but I credit her post with provoking me to ask “how is this story “more than a miracle?”

[2] Sara Miles,  Take this Bread: The Spiritual Memoir of a 21st Century Christian. (Ballantyne 2007), xi.

[3] See my share  on Facebook of the Odyssey Network article on this reading and the call for immigration reform in the US. http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/loaves-fishes-change-immigration-dilemma-matthew-1413-21/

[4] A reference to the recent CRA audits of Oxfam Canada, UCC, Kairos, David Suzuki Foundation, PEN and others. See  http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/preventing-poverty-not-a-valid-goal-for-tax-purposes-cra-tells-oxfam-canada-1.2717774. (August 1, 2014)

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