“If you do not believe the words of Moses, how will you believe my words?” After this stinging indictment Jesus has left the Jewish leaders. He goes away across the water to Galilee, and up the mountain with the disciples. Perhaps he has gone there to have time away, time with the Father, time for teaching the disciples. What we know is that he is soon thereafter aware that a large crowd is coming to him. They are not coming to him for what he has said. We are told they are clamoring to be with Jesus for the miraculous signs he has performed for the sick. For the restoration of lives that this healing has brought. In the lives of the Hebrew people, there was not a bright line between life and death, but a continuum in which one who was chronically sick was seen as not really among the living. For many this sickness placed them outside of the temple community- one would give anything to be restored, to be made whole, to be reinstated into life in community. And one would give anything to be free from whatever pain and suffering life involved. Jesus perhaps was the latest of those who the people followed desperately seeking relief, and many before had proven to be charlatans. There were in excess of five thousand people, a number as large as or larger than a lot of the towns in which we ourselves live today- Over five thousand people swarming to get to their hope for healing.
If I was one of the disciples I would have been wondering how on earth would this throng of people be able to be organized into a manageable system. We would need to triage the situation and determine who had the greatest needs. We would need crowd control. We would need a “take a number” system. We would need more than 12 of us disciples to keep this all from becoming a chaotic mess. So many people to be healed. How long would it take? Out of chaos will come order, and God will provide, but not in the way the people ask.
In the face of this massive influx of needy people, Jesus is not focused on their physical ailments. Instead, he asks how they will all eat. What? Imagine that you have been crippled since birth, or have sores that won’t heal, would the first thing on your mind be- I am hungry? Jesus asks where will they get the bread- he already knows the miracle that he will perform.
The miracle of the feeding is even more stupendous in the multiplication. Nothing was wasted. And seemingly out of nothing God creates something. Everyone has not just a crumb and pretends they are not hungry. Everyone is satisfied. We don’t know how much they ate- maybe it was just a crumb-but the bread from God is sufficient in a way that the bread from the labor of our own hands can never be.
Phillip has been hearing Jesus’ words, and seeing Jesus’ signs and yet, he has not yet taken that quantum leap to fathom that for Jesus, son of God, nothing is impossible. In the days of yore, the manna, bread from heaven, would have seemed impossible. Yet it would be enough. Now the source of the bread was in our midst, creating in ways that seemed impossible, and yet it was enough.
And by not only joining in community but inviting these unclean masses to eat together with Jesus and the disciples, this breaking of bread and sharing of a meal functioned as purification, and restoration into community, the thing their sicknesses had prevented. They were made whole in community, welcomed by God and fed.
There was no picking and choosing of the worthy, no words of limitation, but sufficient abundance for all- no questions asked. No litmus tests, no separation. Everyone sat down- together. Everyone was fed. Everyone was restored. Everyone was satisfied. We don’t know if they were physically healed. But I think they were rescued from a world that was overwhelming and given peace.
They were overwhelmed with it all. They responded the only way they knew how- to try to acknowledge Jesus with earthly power, to make him the king. They wanted to overthrow the system that had failed to help them- they wanted a king like this. It is really pretty treasonous to think such thoughts, much less say them. But just as Jesus provided not what they wanted but what they needed in the breaking of the bread, so he left them now. It is for another day that he will give the people what they really need in a kingship that looks nothing like what they imagine.
So many times we can make things far more complicated than they need to be, with rules and trappings and procedures. Yet it doesn’t get much simpler than this. People gathered right there on the grass. Nothing fancy. There were no cadres of ushers who marched down aisles at just the right time. No one telling antsy kids to be quiet. No one seemingly concerned with sitting in their “usual spot.” Just people who were glad to have Jesus in their midst, to share and be fed and be satisfied. And to dwell just a moment in the awesomeness of this wholeness, this community and in the extravagance of God in our midst.
After the miracle, Jesus again withdraws to the mountain and the disciples and crowds go on their way. Soon enough the worries of the world return, the storms on the water return. The disciples are not sure what THEY can do. Jesus comes again to them, showing that our hope is not in what we can do, but what God does. They want Jesus in the boat with them, but instead the boat is suddenly at the shore. Not what they asked for, but what they needed. This time multiplying speed to safety instead of bread. Out of chaos, order and rescue from a world that is overwhelming.
The disciples thought they were alone, just as each in the crowds probably felt alone in his or her sickness. Jesus provided presence and restoration, for the crowds when they sought him; for the disciples, he came to them even before they asked.
Whether we are in worship because we always come, whether we are here today because we seek an end to chaos, each of us is seeking something more than our daily labors alone can bring. Each of us is hoping to encounter Jesus. Presence, restoration, wholeness, healing and peace are here, for each of us, in ordinary things, in the bread and wine. No matter who we are or where we have been, God’s extravagant abundance is here for all. We can believe these words. Come.