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As we’ve learned over and over again here at Prince of Peace, eating together is important! In fact, as we’ve been recovering from our Covid lockdown, we’ve realized that eating is key to rebuilding community with each other. From our fundraiser for LIRS last year, to our Cinco de Mayo party and even our Yard Sale, if you have food, people will come! Eating together isn’t just about getting nourishment. It’s important for human community. And so it’s a big deal.
Eating was a big deal during Biblical times as well. In fact, it was often an even bigger deal because:
- many times, food was scarce… (and so when you had it, you shared it and made a big deal of inviting others to join in the celebration…)
- food was an important part of hospitality, even to strangers… (and this was not just about manners – it was about not letting people die of hunger in the desert as they were journeying from place to place…)
- eating together was a bonding experience that built families and communities together… (and it was often through these bonding experiences that people were also bonded together with God, and shared the experience of God’s action in their lives – whether it was remembering the Passover, gathering and sharing manna in the wilderness, or celebrating the annual harvest…)
If you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, eat together, it was bad! And in this morning’s Gospel reading, the disciples realize this. Jesus and his disciples had intended to go to the other side of the lake to get away and rest, but people saw where they were going and chased them around to the other side – 5000 of them! As the day wore on, everybody needed to eat. But it wasn’t like there were a bunch of fast food places nearby, so where are you going to find food to feed all these people?
And so, faced with such an enormously daunting situation, the disciples reacted with some of the same ideas we might have had. Those ideas included:
- passing the buck … (let the crowds deal with their own problems; after all, these are people who aren’t that far from home, and probably have resources to buy their own food…)
- declare the problem impossible to solve … (“we have nothing here” they say; it’s just not possible for us)
- tell God how to solve the problem … (they don’t ask Jesus what to do, they TELL Jesus what the solution should be…; this is like a prayer, where I helpfully instruct God on how God should make my problem go away…)
Jesus, on the other hand, has a different way of looking at things, and he helps the disciples to see things differently as well. Instead of taking the disciples’ helpful advice, Jesus instead calls them to:
- look at what they have, instead of what they don’t have… (they say, we have nothing BUT; and as soon as they say include that word “but”, they’ve defeated their own argument…; they do have something and that’s where Jesus wants them to start…)
- look to him for HELP, instead of for an EXCUSE … (“bring them to me”; Jesus then blesses what they HAVE; the disciples are actually right that they can’t solve this by themselves, but if they ask Jesus for help, something more might be possible…)
- share what they have with others … (and this is actually a key point in biblical eating – even and especially in times of scarcity, you don’t hoard stuff for yourself – you share with others around you…; if the disciples were to try to hoard the food for themselves, they would only have 5 loaves and 2 fish; but when they share it with others, Jesus makes it become enough for everybody…)
And this event (maybe because it’s about eating!), made a big impression on the early Christian community. In fact, except for the Resurrection of Jesus himself, this is the ONLY miracle reported in all 4 Gospels … (Not the raising of Lazarus; nor the healing of lepers; not even some more interesting gastronomical experience like the turning of water into wine…!)
This miracle is the big deal. But it’s a big deal not only because of the eating that’s involved, but because of the important lesson Jesus teaches us through this miracle. And the lesson is not that we can always solve hunger with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. Rather, the lesson that Jesus was teaching through this miracle was that, especially when we face daunting challenges, we’re called to be modern disciples who:
- look at the blessings God has already given to us… (instead of all the things we wish we had or used to have… so often, that’s where I get stuck; I think about what I had, or what I could do if I had more; but so often, that blinds me to what I do have, and what opportunities I have now that maybe weren’t in front of me before…)
- ask for, and actually expect, Jesus to help us in using our gifts to make something possible that we couldn’t do by ourselves… (and this doesn’t mean just “putting it in God’s hands”, but being willing, like the disciples, to have Jesus put what we already have back in our hands so that we can use it in new ways…)
- focus on how our gifts can benefit others, not just ourselves… (in these first few weeks of August, we’re looking at how we can help Mar-Lu Ridge refresh it’s facilities, especially in ways that make the camp accessible to people who couldn’t use it before; it’s about making the “bread” of the camp experience possible for others to share in; and frankly, our contributions may look like 5 loaves and 2 fish; but it’s worth seeing what Jesus can do with our gifts when we put them first in Jesus’ hands and ask how we can use them to help others – the result is already somewhat surprising…
Eating together in the Bible was a big deal. And it’s still a big deal for us. Sometimes, that’s because it’s fun, and the food is good and we enjoy each others’ company. And all of those things are great!
But in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus shows us that eating together isn’t an end in and of itself. It’s also an important way that we build community with each other and even with God. It’s important because, in sharing what we have, we have to intentionally focus on the gifts God has given us right now. And it’s important because often, it’s through the sharing of bread that Jesus makes us bread in the life of the world around us.