I love this reading. It’s one I think most people know – even those who have never come to church. It contains two of Jesus’ miracles – walking on water and somehow managing to feed 5000 people. We often dismiss it as a children’s story – somehow trying to tell us something, we’re not quite sure what… but certainly that there wasn’t suddenly – magically enough food to feed 5000 people when moments before there were just five loaves and two fish.
We think like this because this is what our lives have taught us. I often think of Jesus and the Disciples as a sort of PCC – because that’s what I know! I can see them sat around a rock in the middle of a field with an impending crisis.
“Okay, onto our next agenda item… um… where did we get to? We’ve done building and plant, we’ve done matters arising, did I sign the last set of minutes? Ah yes, here we go… item 5. Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
All eyes turn to the treasurer… they all know the difficult truth… the accounts are not strong…
“Um” replies Philip… “It would take about six months wages and we’d still not actually feed everyone properly.”
Jesus looks on knowingly.
“Well” says another disciple, “if we can’t do it properly is it worth doing at all?” Another disciple cutting across him “hang on, we can’t seriously consider this can we? What about our donation to the orphan fund of Galilee? We didn’t have enough money to do that how can we do this?”. “No no” another voice dives in. “This is MISSION! If we do this we can be seen to be helping people and that will bring more people to meet with Jesus!”. “Philip… what do we have in the mission account?” “Well…” replies Philip, “we could just about manage it but I’m not sure what the point is if we want to get good PR – as I said – there wouldn’t be enough to give everyone more than a small amount”.
I can see Jesus listening to all this. As ever, the disciples disagreeing with one another, everyone trying to get their point across – all very good points of course – all worth listening to – but they all miss the point. They’ve already missed the first miracle. And so have we.
What is the first miracle in this reading? Is it the multiplication of the loaves and fishes? No… the first miracle is in the second verse.
“A large crowd kept following him….”
The first miracle is one that we can understand as humans – it requires no faith or belief in the supernatural – in fact in attempting to engage with the two other miracles in this reading we miss the easiest for us to understand. We can understand it because we do it each day, each Sunday. We follow Jesus – because he speaks to us.
What is truly wonderful is not that a (seemingly) human being could multiply loaves and fishes but that this man could inspire thousands of people to follow him – physically – across a sea! That this man could represent such hope, such healing, such love that people would follow him about to such an extent that in another part of the bible we learn that Jesus had to go out to sea a little in order not be crushed and so that he could be heard by such a large crowd.
The fact that people followed Jesus then, and still follow Him today is the first miracle. If we understand that then we can start to engage with the rest of the reading. When we understand that miracle then our conversations about problems that seem so huge that they can’t be ‘fixed’ become different.
We all understand that… what’s the point of engaging with homeless people? Do we ignore it – because we can’t fix it – it’s too big a problem. Do we attempt to do somethingthat we can label as Mission and can attach a press release to – because in being seen to ‘do good’ we attract people to the church? Do we immediately turn to our accounts to try to figure out what we mightbe able to do?
We can be so overwhelmed with the size of our problems that our response is to engage with the detail in front of us and forget that we are all in a boat together, rowing towards the other side of the sea, apparently without Jesus – only to find he’s there ahead of us, but not in the way that we were expecting. We get stuck in thinking that we’re in the boat rowing and that’s the thing in front of us we need to concentrate on.
But there’s another way of looking at overwhelming problems, and that’s one of the messages from today’s reading. How do we feed these 5000 people?
We do the small things that are in front of us.
I’ve just come back from St. David’s and I was reminded of his last words to one of his fellow monks:
“Be joyful and keep the faith. Do those little things you have seen and heard from me.”
And it struck me once again how important that is. “Do the little things”.
Jesus tells his disciples to ask everyone to sit down. He then takes the loaves and the fishes, and he starts to hand them out. From that small step, from that tiny start He then feeds the 5000. He didn’t just feed them – first He gave thanks – he prayed – and then He fed them in abundance. He fed them until they were satisfied. In fact so much that there were left overs – 12 baskets!
In this miracle Jesus has offered us a pattern of how we may approach those things that are too much, too big, too difficult.
We start with the most important. We give thanks, we pray. We do that each and every week we meet – we pray for the world, for its needs, for His church, we pray for each other and for those in need. We give thanks.
The next step is to start to feed people. Feed people with the love and knowledge of Jesus. Feed people until they are satisfied, until there is too much to go around. With enough knowledge and with enough love of Christ then these enormous issues will start to be tackled. We don’t always know how. There isn’t a project plan with a neat deadline date and milestones that need to be met along the way. We can’t measure the performance of this sharing of the knowledge and love of Christ. But we know, because Jesus tells us and because we have faith, that in the end all things will be well.
This is all very well – but what does this look like in the world today? Let’s take an example from Hereford. Several years ago we saw the horrendous, heart breaking pictures and videos from Calais of refugees gathered on the coast of France trying to get to the UK. The big international aid agencies were essentially banned from helping and the French and British governments were trying to do everything they could to break up the large camp that had been established – they succeeded and dispersed 10,000 desperate people along the Calais – Dunkirk coast.
What could we do? What could we hope to do for 10,000 people in another country? We started with prayer. We gave thanks for Jesus in our lives and then we started doing the small things in front of us. We collected sleeping bags. We collected food. We drove out to Calais and gave it out.
That was a tiny scratch in the problem in front of us, but we continued to do the small things in front of us. Many people were doing these small things and over time those small things started to add up and a group called People In Motion grew out of those small things. People In Motion – amongst other small charities – drew together lots of people who were doing small things and they are just one small part of lots of other people doing small things and now in Calais there is a distribution point, a warehouse and people on the ground trying their best to make an impossible situation better.
They do it through prayer, through love and through the small things in front of them.
And because of that 5000 people get a hot meal every day. 5000 people get prayed for, every day.
And that everybody – thatis a miracle.
From the marrows and pumpkins of the West Hereford Team, 5000 people get a hot meal. From the 20 sleeping bags we collected, 5000 people get a warm night’s sleep. From the 40 bags of donated clothing at the Team Office, 5000 people get clean cloths free from tear gas.
From our prayers, 5000 people know that they are loved.
Miracles happen each and every day. Pray. Do the small things in front of us.