by the Rev. Joe Parrish
The Holy Gospel according to John 6:1-21
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea
of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s
brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people
sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So, they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
got into a boat, and started across the seato Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about
three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
O Lord, give us hearts for helping those who starving and drowning. Amen.
The old Maldavian seafront town had a wonderful reputation for pulling out of the water those whose boats had foundered on their rocky shore as they were heading to port. Every week it seemed like someone needed saving; sometimes more than one boatload were pulled back to safety. The townspeople encouraged each other as every able-bodied person in that town took turns in pairs or more keeping watch for a full day and night. Every day there were at least two people on duty, and all the town took shifts. They trained each other in CPR and cardio-resuscitation; some were even sea divers who were skilled at pulling out those from boats that had gone under water. After they got the unfortunate sailors ashore, they would wrap them in warm blankets and give them a beverage and some food, and a tent or a room at the local motel so they would have a place to stay until they could get on the next boat leaving the port. And to cheer them up a bit after their ordeal, the would sing them some of the hymns they had learned from their grandparents and other relatives and friends, and they would also comfort them with a few verses from their favorite Bible stories. And almost everyone was saved. The town celebrated greatly each time they pulled a person to safety.
But the weather was sometimes very difficult, and over time the town decided to build a sea-saving shelter from which to launch the lifesaving efforts; it soon became a comfortable beach front establishment. Some of the swimmers began to bring in sandwiches and salads and their favorite beverages, and they would occasionally have grand parties on some weekends. However, as it turned out over time, more people were interested in the entertainment than in swimming and lifesaving and telling Bible stories—after all, it was a rocky shore, and occasionally the lifesavers got some cuts and bruises when they went out to pluck unfortunate sailors from the surf. So, they began to group themselves in several specialized categories: swimmers, divers, beverage and sandwich makers, singers, entertainers, and so on. Over time it became more and more difficult to attract enough swimmers and divers into the lifesaving establishment. And over the years, the town grew less and less interested in doing lifeguarding there just were not enough to have volunteer swimmers on duty every night–but more and more were interested in having their fun get-togethers each week.
A few noticed that the ships kept foundering on the rocky shore and that more and more were unable to survive the sea wrecks. They tried to bring the problem to the attention of those at the lifesaving station, but the parties were often having too much fun to hear their announcements, and when they could hear them, they nodded their heads but quickly went back to their food and entertainment. The lifesaving station became a grand place for weddings and baptisms and even funerals, although a some noticed that most of the funerals were for those who had washed up on their shore. But the general mood of the town was upbeat. It’s a great place to live, they said.
The church down the street from where I live puts up clever messages on their outdoor sign board each week. This week’s message said, “Our lifeguard walks on water.” And indeed, they are using the same gospel as are we this Sunday, where Jesus not only feeds the five thousand, but soon after that grand miracle, his disciples see Jesus walking across the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm.
In John’s gospel, unlike Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus does not pull Peter up from drowning as Peter attempts to walk on the stormy sea towards his Master. John’s gospel focuses more on just the two great miracles, the feeding of five thousand people using the lunch of a boy who happened to be in the crowd, and, of course, the walking on water miracle. Jesus could defy gravity and storms. The gospel writer today however does focus on the details which the other gospels did not include, such as more details on how Jesus was able to feed so many. John’s gospel reveals that Jesus was able to multiply the small lunch of a boy who was present; he only had five crude barley loaves and two fish. But Jesus ignores the fact finding of Andrew who asks how on earth can we feed so many from such little. Jan and I went a few years ago to St. John in the Virgin Islands.
When we were able to get through all the airport and traffic and lines, we arrived just after the official check in time that that particular discount airline posted. So, the gate agents said, ‘Sorry, we would have to take the next plane’. We waited several hours for the next plane but noted that upstairs people were apparently still arriving at the departure gate of our original flight. In any event, we found out that when our flight landed in Puerto Rico, that our bags would not be deplaned, and we had to sleep in our clothes in an airport motel. After we arrived early the next morning at St. Thomas, someone said that we should have ignored the gate agents and gone on up to the gate where we would have been able to leave on time. But in our somewhat grubby condition on St.Thomas’, it was a Sunday, we decided to make the most of it and found our way to the cathedral which was there on St.Thomas. Since we had arrived on the first plane into St. Thomas, we were quite early getting to the cathedral. However, we were surprised that the cathedral was already half full of many local Virgin Islanders with their families sitting quietly in the pews. Later some of them told us, since the last hurricane the cathedral had installed air conditioning at the same time they replaced the old roof with a high-tech roof that could ‘rise up’ when there was an extreme low pressure above it caused by the hurricane. As a result, the cathedral has escaped mostly unharmed through every subsequent hurricane. And the people told us how wonderful it was to have an air conditioned cathedral, especially in their normal high humidity seasons. Sometimes, when we get lemons, we need to consider making lemonade.
Jesus did not look on the boy’s small lunch as any sort of impediment. Jesus simply saw that as an opportunity to show what he could do with so little. He was unworried about the outcome and instead he focused more on getting the people seated on the grass than on what he was preparing to do. Then they all had a good view of Jesus offering the few loaves and giving thanks to his heavenly father for them, and so also the fish. And everyone ate until they were satisfied. It wasn’t just a snack, it was a full course meal. And after the meal, they just couldn’t eat any more. And Jesus said ‘let’s keep the leftovers for another day’; there were enough scraps to fill a basket for every one of his disciples; he apparently could snack off what they had himself.
Free food gets one known as “the prophet who was to come into the world.” Maybe we too can recognize him. Amen.
Jesus is undeterred by our lack of resources or faith, and with what little we can offer, Jesus can work mighty miracles. He is not bothered by storms or winds.