Sermon highlight: “The Feeding of the 5,000 was both miraculous and God-inspired, but not magical — only emblematic of what is always possible whenever individuals and groups open themselves to the transformative power of putting the love of God and neighbor into practice.” Click below to read the sermon in full.
The Rev. J. Carl Gregg
26 September 2010
Broadview Church in Calvert County, Maryland
What does following Jesus look like? In Mark 6, we get one early example of Jesus’ direct instructions for those who would follow him. At the time, Jesus’ followers were “Just the Twelve of Us,” and we read that he sent the twelve disciples out two by two, ordering them only take a staff, sandals, and one tunic. He specifically told them not to take any food, money, or change of clothes. Whenever I read this passage, I’m reminded that, whatever it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century, more is required than merely believing doctrines about Jesus or admiring acts that Jesus did 2,000 years ago. The way of Jesus is a way of being in the world, and in this case it was a way of being in the world that required traveling light and being dependent on the hospitality of strangers because you had no food or money or change of clothes.
Jesus next says somewhat curiously, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.” Well, obviously, if you enter a house, there’s no other option but to stay in the house until you leave the house. But, as you may have already guessed, when Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place,” the words ‘house’ and ‘place’ contain different meanings. Instead, I believe Jesus is pointing the disciples back to being reliant in each place that they visit on hospitality from one particular family. Instead of going to a different house each night, the disciples are to stay in one house until they are ready to go to another place. Staying in one place allows them to develop a relationship with at least one family in each place they visit in addition to the other, less intimate relationships they are forming through their daily preaching and healing.
For us here at Broadview Church, there are a number of invitations. One is a reminder that we should not try to do everything individually, which is why Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs instead of alone.
Second, Jesus’ emphasis of making yourself vulnerable and dependent — no food, money, or change of clothes — reminds us of the central importance of both offering and receiving hospitality. And notice that both role of host and the role of guest are central to the way of Jesus.
As we read the Gospel of Mark — or any of the other Gospels — our natural tendency is often to be most sympathetic to the position of Jesus and the disciples. And I think you can make a convincing case that one of Mark’s central narrative goals is for the reader to identify with Jesus and the disciples so that your reading experience itself becomes a call to follow Jesus. But for the way of Jesus to work, you need not only followers willing to sell everything they have, follow Jesus, and be commissioned to go out two by two. You also need householders who are willing to serve as hosts to these radical followers as they move from town to town. And I invite you to consider that, for the most part, we and most of the people we know have more in common with the householders — being invited to practice hospitality — than we do with the disciples, who have sold everything to follow Jesus with only a staff and no luggage, money, or other identification.
Now, as many of you know, I am in many ways a pragmatist — which means I’m interested in asking, “What works?” “How did our actual experience differ from what we expected beforehand?” “What do we need to revise in light of testing our hypothesis in the crucible of reality?” So, then, notice what happens during the Feeding of the 5,000 — keeping in mind that the disciples have only just returned from their mission of spreading the good news of the kingdom of God without food, money, or a change of clothes. They’ve been forced to survive solely on the hospitality of others. So what do they do when faced with a hungry crowd? They say, “Send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” Nice. And I can almost see the look of exasperated disbelief on Jesus’ face when he stops them and says, “You give them something to eat.” It’s like, “Hello! Have you learned nothing?!” But the disciples are unswayed and protest, “Are we supposed to cater a meal for 5,000 men, plus the women and children?” But Jesus, continuing to practice the kingdom model he is trying to teach the disciples, does not expect them to have money. He knows they don’t have any money; he just sent them on a mission without money!
So what is happening in this passage? I think Jesus is turning the tables on the disciples, as it were. They have experience being hosted at the table of others, so now he is inviting them to experience the role of host. Jesus tells them, “Go and see how much food you already have,” and they report, “Five loaves, and two fish.” Jesus, then, in a manner that will be recapitulated at the Last Supper takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to both his disciples and the crowds to share.
And I invite you to consider this morning that what happened was not a violation of the Law of Conservation of Energy, which says that “matter may be neither created nor destroyed.” Instead, I think that the disciples’ act of sharing their five loaves and two fishes inspired members of the crowd to begin sharing the food they had brought in a sort of domino effect — such that more and more people kept sharing until, not only had “all eaten and been filled,” but also they ended up with leftovers!
Notice also the further implication of this event: Jesus has demonstrated to more than 5,000 householders, who are sympathetic to his kingdom of God program, about the miraculous power of hospitality and sharing. He has, in effect, planted seeds about the fruit of hospitality, and he has created up to 5,000 potential households that may be sympathetic when his disciples show up on their doorstep in the future with no food, money, or change of clothes — that is, with only a message of hospitality, healing, hope, and grace. Recalling Jesus’ Seed Parables from Mark chapter 4, Jesus is, in essence, through inspiring this act of food sharing, tilling the soil of both the disciples’ souls and the souls of the householders in the crowd. He is taking the rocky, thorny soil of greed, anxiety, selfishness, and scarcity and creating “good soil” — which he described as “yielding thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” It is this good soil of generosity and compassion that, with only the smallest encouragement, can suddenly inspire sharing on a level that can feed more than 5,000 people. You’ll recall that Jesus ended that parable with the words, “Let anyone with ear to hear listen.” And in Mark 6 we see that at the Feeding of the 5,000 both the disciples and the crowd did listen and share. And the result was miraculous and God-inspired, although I would argue not magical — but only emblematic of what is always possible whenever individuals and groups open themselves to the transformative power of putting the love of God and neighbor into practice.
In closing, I offer you one final reflection. After worship, we will further discuss the upcoming Blessing of the Animals, and consider how we can continue to spread the word to those who may find our way of being church to be good news. To set the tone for those reflection, I invite you to hear this short excerpt from the writing of marketing consultant Seth Godin titled, “I need you to see things my way”:
I need you to see things my way. And that’s the frustration of the marketer or the artist who hasn’t figured out how to navigate critics and the marketplace. If you need the validation and acceptance and patronage of everyone you meet, you’ll get stuck, and soon. Everyone isn’t going to get it. Everyone isn’t even going to get you, never mind what you sell. Experienced marketers and artists and those that make change understand that the new is not for everyone. In fact, it’s not even for most people. Pass them by. They can catch up later. It’s not a referendum, and you don’t need a unanimous vote of acclamation. No, you merely need enough to stay in business, to keep moving, to make a dent. And then your idea can spread. If the kids in the back of the bus/audience/store don’t get it (or don’t get you) it’s their loss. Focus on those that want to celebrate the work you do instead.
Jesus experienced this same dynamic, which is why we often hear him say, “Let those with ears to hear listen.”
As we continue to live into who God is calling us to be as individuals and as Broadview Church, we are not locked into the traditional model of attracting people by catering a meal for more than 5,000 people. Instead, we can model a way of sharing and hospitality in which everyone may not get a $50/plate dinner, but everyone will get enough. And, when we refrain from hoarding, we find that enough is as good as a feast. We may even rediscover a lesson both as old as the ages and as simple as the kindergarten sandbox: that by honoring God’s way of sharing and hospitality everyone paradoxically gets filled and there are leftovers in abundance.
1 For more on the Feeding of the 5,000 not being a supernatural event, see Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man (1988/2008: 206).
2 Seth Godin’s blog is available here.