The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Watch the sermon here.
Last Friday, I had some exciting plans. I had invited my longtime friend, Jonathan, who I haven’t seen in 3 years, over for dinner. Jonathan was bringing his girlfriend, too, whom I’d never met before. We were going to cook Armenian food together and enjoy catching up over some of our favorite ethnic cuisine.
The day of our dinner didn’t go quite as expected, though, and I wasn’t able to go food shopping for the 3 of us until late in the day.
As I was leaving the grocery store, with barely enough time to get home before Jonathan arrived and having overspent my monthly grocery budget, a homeless woman outside approached me and rather forcefully asked if I would please buy her some food and also give her some cash. At that moment, my bus approached as well. The bus that I swear only comes once every 45 minutes. I hesitated, but I knew the right thing to do.
So I agreed to buy her some bread and cereal, and back inside the grocery store we went. But as I headed for the bread aisle, she went a different way. She insisted on going up and down every aisle in the store. She took forever in the cereal aisle, unable to decide which cereal to get for her kids. I bit my tongue as she added some items to the basket without my consent, silently calculating the rising cost of the food in the basket. When I finally got to the checkout lane, I realized I was alone, and I had to recover her from the dessert aisle as I quickly handed the cashier my credit card for the 2nd time that day.
As I rushed home with my groceries, I got a text from another friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, saying she and another mutual friend were in the neighborhood for happy hour. Long story short, they pronounced that since I couldn’t come out with them, they’d just crash our dinner party a little later. I couldn’t say no – I really wanted to see these friends, too – but I also didn’t know how to tell them I only had food for 3.
And although I loved the idea of my 2 friends coming to visit, if they were going to crash a dinner, I would have preferred it not to be this one. My friend Jonathan is someone I’ve known for a long time. I’ve seen him through a lot of significant life events – graduations, deaths, changing friendships. But I’ve never met one of his girlfriends before, and I knew he was bringing her because he wanted to introduce me to “the one” – so this dinner was important.
My night of exciting plans was turning into a nightmare with not enough food, not enough time, and not enough money.
I find some kinship in Philip’s response to Jesus’ testing question, as Jesus surveys the hungry crowd and asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” After a whirlwind of watching Jesus healing and teaching crowds of followers, and their attempt to pull away from the crowds for some rest, only to have the crowds follow and press in on them, Philip’s answer after a long, eventful, and stressful day, basically, is: “Nowhere. There isn’t enough.” We don’t know if he passed or failed this test, but I’m gonna venture a guess that he didn’t earn a gold star for it.
The feeding of the 5,000 is a story many of you probably know well. And it’s significant enough to be the only miracle to be recorded in all 4 gospels.
Why this one, I wonder? Why is this miracle the one they all included? Why not the miracles of healing, of restoring sight to the blind, or walking to the lame? Why not miracles of raising the dead back to life? Or calming a raging storm? Why a miracle about something as mundane as eating?
In John’s gospel, the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is located near the Passover – a story and a celebration of God’s provision.
And unlike in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospel, where the disciples are the ones to feed the crowd, in John’s gospel, Jesus himself feeds the 5,000. John’s gospel has no “last supper” as we think of it, where Jesus takes bread, blesses, breaks, and gives it. That, instead, happens here, with the crowd of 5,000 spiritually and physically hungry people.
This is not only a story about compassion for the starving. This is about Jesus giving himself – all of himself.
It is that Jesus who asks Philip, “how are we to feed these people?” Jesus doesn’t believe, for a second, in scarcity. But he knows that Philip is tempted to see things differently. Most of the messaging we receive in some way shape or form tries to convince us that there’s just not enough. Not enough jobs – so be afraid of immigrants stealing them from you. Not enough money – so keep as much to yourself as you can. Not enough food – so don’t share what you have. Not enough love – so don’t give too much of yourself to someone else. Not enough kindness – so don’t be overly nice to others. Not enough honesty – so don’t trust other people. Not enough time. Not enough stuff. Not… enough.
So perhaps a miracle about something as mundane as eating makes its way into all 4 gospels because we still need the reassurance that we won’t go hungry, the reminder to not give into the temptation of scarcity. We need stories about how against all odds and all reasonable outcomes, God will provide. When we see one child with a measly handful of bread and fish, Jesus takes it, blesses, breaks, and gives it, and turns it into enough food for 5,000 people. When all we see is scarcity, God somehow makes our cup run over.
As my friends and I sat down to dinner last Friday night, I wasn’t sure how, but everyone’s plate was full. We ate and drank and were merry. My party crashers left, and Jonathan and Giny and I spent a few more hours together. She’s definitely “the one.” 🙂 When I cleaned up, there was so much food left over that I had dinner for 2 more days. And when Jonathan and Giny finally walked out the door, I wanted for nothing. I had that wonderful feeling of fulfillment after precious time with friends, and I was totally ready for bed.
There was enough. There was more than enough.
“How are we to feed these people?” The answer to Philip’s test is what Jesus gives: not money, not stuff, but himself. Maybe that’s enough.