Matthew 14: 13-21
13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
My question about the Feeding of the 5,000 this week has been “Why is this so important?” It’s one of very few miracle stories that is repeated across all four gospels, it’s taught to children, depicted in art and there are even Churches of the Multiplication…though not a lot because that’s really hard to say. And yes, in some ways it is an extraordinary story… but in the scheme of Jesus’ miracles: walking on water, raising Lazarus, casting out demons, calming the storm…taking bread and fish and making more bread and fish is pretty ordinary. So why does it stick in our imaginations the way that it does?
I think that’s because for Christians, this is a miracle story, yes, but it’s even more an identity story. We understand God as the one who shows up with us, heals us, and feeds us in both our physical bodies and our spirits. And we understand ourselves as people who gather looking for something from God, then eat together, provide for each other as we are able, and always believe that whatever we are able to bring to the table, God will make out of it enough, and more than enough.
Now in a way I mean that very literally: eating together is what we do. Christians have been having gatherings much like tonight for thousands of years now and sharing both ordinary and ritual meals. Of all Christian ritual, the most central is a meal. Communion is now quite stylized but at its bones, it’s dinner with friends and dinner with God. It echoes Jesus’ last dinner with his friends, but also this story of bread and fish for thousands, and dinner on the road to Emmaus, and heavenly banquets, and every person through time and space who has gathered around a table like this. There are layers upon layers of meaning brought together by what we do that is both ordinary and extraordinary: eating together and eating with God.
…and in some mysterious way, eating God. That’s a much more extraordinary claim that having more bread and fish than you started with. In some ways, it’s downright offensive, and it’s no wonder that Christians have been accused of cannibalism from time to time. Some Romans believed we ate babies since they heard stories of dinner gatherings that included a ritual meal of body and blood, and also noticed that when Christians found babies who had been been “exposed,” left out to die in the elements, they took them home. Putting two and two together, we must be eating the babies.
But in reality of course, what we eat is in most ways very ordinary. The wine is from Total Wine, the bread, crackers and grape juice are from Target. Part of what connects us to communion is that this is the recognizable stuff or our daily lives. Yet it is also body and blood of Christ, in a miraculous but very real sense, so that in this ritual God becomes both the hosting friend who is always cooking for us, and the meal itself that gathers community, gives strength and forgives whatever is twisting our spirits. It is the most visceral reminder possible that God loves us creatures enough to die for us.
And so Christians gather, week after week, all over the world to follow some ordinary and yet extraordinary instructions, “this is my body that is given for you, do this for the remembrance of me.” And we remember again who God is and who we are:
God is the one who sticks around and feeds us. We are people who eat together, share what we have, and expect that in both ordinary and extraordinary ways, God is present and will make it enough and more than enough. Amen.