CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Living God’s Abundance
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
- John 6:1-21
A huge crowd follows Jesus up a mountain. Jesus sees them coming and leans over to ask, “Philip, where we will buy enough bread for these people?”
Not that anyone has mentioned being hungry, mind you, or that it's dinnertime, or even that everyone forgot to bring food. For all we know, there were parents and children in the crowd; surely someone brought snacks.
Philip answers the way we are often tempted to answer in a crisis: “We’re doomed.” Andrew points out that there’s a boy with a couple of fish and five loaves of bread.
“But that’s not nearly enough,” says Andrew. “I don’t know why I even mentioned it.”
“Make the people sit down,” Jesus says. And he offers thanks for the bread and fish and distributes it to the gathered thousands. There is plenty, plus enough left over to fill 12 baskets.
John’s Gospel is full of stories about abundance. It begins by telling us Jesus is the Word from whose fullness we have all received grace upon grace. Then there’s the wedding at Cana when the wine runs out. Jesus tells the servants to fill jars with water, which they do, right up to the brim. And Jesus changes the water into a profusion of wine—and really good wine, at that.
Later, at a well in Samaria, Jesus offers a woman living water and tells her whoever drinks this water will never thirst again, an abundance of satisfaction. The night before he is killed, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” There is plenty of room for his disciples and for all. John ends his Gospel by saying there is lots more to tell, but, if he were to write it all down, there wouldn’t be enough space in the world to hold all the books that would take.
Food, slaked thirst, rooms, more books than there are shelves to hold them—John’s Gospel, like those jars of wine at Cana, is full to overflowing with God’s grace mediated through Jesus Christ. “I have come that they might have life,” Jesus says, “and have it abundantly.”
Jesus proclaims that abundance when he feeds the 5,000. He doesn’t feed the crowd so much because they are hungry as because that is how Jesus is. He is the One who offers unlimited welcome and hospitality to all who come to him and does so without even being asked. That is who God is. God in Christ Jesus is the One who sees a crowd coming and rustles up a feast.
We, of course, forget this all the time. We are like Philip and Andrew, anxious about scarcity and insufficiency, wary of risking ourselves on unfamiliar ground. We aim for safety and security, holding back rather than reaching out, worrying about shortfall rather than trusting God’s plenty. We fight for power and control because we live in fear rather than trust. We approach people as “other” rather than as “neighbor” and defend our turf as if our very lives depend on it. In a world that accords ever more power to the already powerful, the fault lines between us deepen and grow.
But we are Christians. We are the Body of Christ. We follow Jesus. We are called by God to go places we have never been, befriend and be befriended by people unlike us, do things we have never tried, and be things we don’t yet know how to be. Like the 5,000 seated on the grass and enjoying an abundance of fish and bread, we belong to a community gathered, nourished and loved by Jesus. Like them we have discovered that, when God throws a picnic, there is more than enough for all.
Jesus calls us to live that truth. He invites us to live in light of God’s gracious, constant, overflowing hospitality, daily oriented towards God’s abundance. Jesus challenges us to take God’s offer of abundant life seriously, not so we will end up rich in material things, but so we can live what we know—you and I have been freed to walk in love as Christ loved us.
The feeding of the 5,000 in John’s Gospel is a story about the new world and community coming into being through Jesus, one that is grounded in his open-armed generosity and care. We are surrounded by God’s plenty. We can let down our defenses, put away our anxieties and together live the abundant life we have in Jesus.
Jesus breaks bread and invites us to the feast. Will we accept?
The Rev. Sarah Ball-Damberg is the associate rector at Holy Family, Chapel Hill.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus