God Feeds All, People Are Not Expendable. (John 6.1-21)
God Feeds All, People Are Not Expendable
The comedian Jimmy Carr was talking about the feeding of the five thousand on QI, he said ‘the feeding of the five thousand? ‘There’s five thousand people, and they went, there’s some bread and fish, I reckon that was about four and a half thousand people saying, what we got? Bread and fish? Nah I’m alright thanks.’
David Mitchell then responded “Out of five thousand people only two of them thought to bring any food… The other side of it is there are 4,998 idiots… And Jesus doesn’t make them learn a lesson from that!”
I think they’re missing the point slightly. This isn’t about teaching anyone a lesson, this isn’t about God begrudgingly doing something. God is generous, and in unexpected places, with unexpected people.
What do you think about this story, do you reckon it happened? It was clearly a story that was really precious to the early church. This miracle is the only one in all four gospels, so I think it probably did. Four different accounts corroborate the same thing. There was a shortage of food, and Jesus produces abundant food for them to eat.
It might seem surprising to us, but this narrative is all about how Jesus is actually God, so the fact that strange and miraculous things are happening, is not really that out of the ordinary. This story has so much to say about the character of God it almost drips, oozes out of the words from the page.
For a start there’s the location, which is massively important. Jesus liked folks like you and me. ‘Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee’ the exact location of the miracle is quite vague, so we’re not sure exactly where it was, but from the description we know that they had passed somewhere near Decapolis or Bethsaida. Both of which are Pagan areas. Gentiles. No self-respecting Jew would be mingling with people in this area. It was the wrong side of the tracks for a good Jew, but Jesus is there on the dodgy ground. It was like a Norwich City supporter, descending into the depths, the very heart of Ipswich. In the eyes of others it made him unclean.
But Jesus as God doesn’t care one bit. Not only was Jesus mingling with them, but he was touching them, and healing them too! Perhaps he even had a beer with them!
Unexpected people followed him in their droves. He had become a massive celebrity because of all the wonderful things he was doing. Because people saw those signs, they believed in him.
God brings the unexpected in, and makes them flourish. God cares about people. People are not expendable.
God uses this miracle to teach the disciples a lesson. Jesus sits down with his disciples on the mountainside, showing that he’s a teacher, but also the Mountain is a place of encounter with God throughout the Bible. It also represents closeness to God’s authority, Jesus has the authority. The Passover is coming, this is foreshadowing the last supper, when the Eucharist, the bread of life is instituted.
You can see by this point that Jesus and his disciples must have felt pretty harassed. Wherever they went they were surrounded by people who wanted to look at them, or wanted something from them, pestered, chased, like paparazzi all over a celebrity. But how does Jesus react?
Does he tell them to go away, that they shouldn’t dare come so near to the Son of God? Does he say that they should ask someone else for help, that he would only be encouraging reliance and irresponsibility?
No, Jesus says, I’m gonna feed these people, and feed them well. These unexpected people are mine. He says that God is approachable and near to those who need Him.
In this version of the story, Jesus takes the initiative, in the others the disciples approach him. Here he knows what he’s about to do, because he is moved by compassion at the crowd. He asks Philip about the crowd. It’s impossible! They say, we can’t possibly feed them all, we’ve only got this meagre fish and barley loaves, essentially a peasant’s lunch.
God’s grace goes beyond their understanding, God’s love is so deep that He doesn’t abandon the people to their own devices. Even though they are gentiles, even though in the eyes of others they’re not in the right club. God cares for the people present, and not only does He give them enough, but more than enough. Ample. Abundance. People are not expendable.
This is the character of God, a God who doesn’t abandon the people, but satisfies them, and gives abundantly and unexpectedly. In the face of that abundance, and that love how could you possible say, nah I’m alright thanks.
It’s hard not to see the similarities with the Eucharist in what Jesus says over the bread. This is like a pre cursor to when He institutes communion at the last supper.
The bread that becomes abundant, and God gives abundantly. God wants us to be satisfied. This section of John is all about how Jesus is the bread of life. We share this bread of life every Sunday! We share in the life giving abundance that God gives to us freely, and we re enact that grace filled bread of life moment with everyone who has shared it in the past, and will share it in the future.
God wants to strengthen us, to nourish us, she does so through the bread of life.
But there is a line. This is shown by the way the people react to the loaves and fishes. They try and take Jesus, and make him King by force.
This is what ‘William Temple’ (see a proper theologian, I do read sometimes) This is what William Temple calls ‘natural religion.’ We are compelled by our natural impulses to try and make God fit into our own purposes. Just like Judas who will stand apart in disloyalty, trying to bend Jesus to His will.
We do this when we batter at God’s door, making demands of Her saying if you don’t do this I’ll be really angry with you. If I don’t get my way that’s it, how could you do this to me?
Haven’t we all done such things? I know I have.
Here’s the main beef I have with God alright? When I want to have a spiritual experience, God doesn’t turn up, but when I am not expecting it at all, God turns up. It’s infuriating.
Perhaps it’s because God can work with me better that way. Perhaps I need to trust in God more, and allow the bread of life, the abundance of God into my life. Jesus sees my need, our need, and knows what he’s about to do. Perhaps when I try to bend God to my will, It’s not the right thing, It’s subversive to God’s purposes. Perhaps if we open our hearts in unexpected wonder, like the crowd initially did, we would receive something unexpected. Perhaps if occasionally we relinquish control we receive the bread of Life, Jesus.
This story teaches that there is a balance that has to be struck between our will and God’s, and that there is no one God doesn’t care about.
Yesterday I had the privilege of being with the Christians at Pride stall outside our church. It was a day of great encounters with many different types of people, but it was good to do another thing, to make a statement that no one is beyond the loving care of God. Just as Jesus fed a crowd of gentiles with bread and fish, so we too tried to feed a world, a group of people who believe that they do not need the love of God, or that they’re not loved by God.
It’s a huge personal shame for me as a Christian to know that people are told that they are not loved by God because of who they love. I wonder is it within God’s purposes to make people feel this way? To shout hurtful messages? To make people feel as if they are already living in hell?
My answer to that is, did Jesus shout ‘go away’ at the gentile crowd? People are not expendable.
Regardless of what we might believe about homosexuality, whether it is a sin or not, Jesus didn’t just feed Jewish people, but fed everyone. God is in relationship with all people whether they are sinners or not. God cares about the people who society mistreats, who others condemn and judge, just as much as morally and righteous people. We are all sinners, and God feeds us too with the bread of life, though we are many, we are one body, because we share in one cup.
We met the God of abundance outside this church, on the dodgy ground and in the people we met, in the unexpected encounters. We saw the marks of Jesus on them.
God wants us to live full, happy and satisfied lives, to love others, and to make Her love known to everyone. He encourages us to know that he’s still there in the unexpected people and place of the world. We must approach His abundance with openness of heart. To treat others as we would want to be treated.
That’s how we live the bread of life, and are nourished by God, and I say, to hell with hatred.
 William Temple, Readings in St John’s Gospel First Series Chapters I-XII (Macmillan: London, 1940) p.76