B Cycle – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 21
I have always found the slight differences between this story as John was inspired to record it and the same story in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In John we hear Jesus looking at the crowd and then asking the disciples how they could “buy” food for them.” The other writers were inspired to record Jesus telling the disciples to “feed them yourselves.” I do not want to get into a theological comparison between them because either version has God revealing something to us about our own faith response to Jesus’s words to us.
This gospel, by any author, challenges us in the same manner. Can we do something we know or believe is impossible thus keeping us from attempting it or asking for it? The fact that is indisputable in this story is the crowd was very large, the place was far from civilization, the people needed to be fed and Jesus is expecting the disciples to find a way to feed them. But they cannot see any way that is possible. There is not enough money to buy enough food for 5 thousand men. There is not enough food being carried by those in the crowd to share with others. So, their answer is to send them away while there is still time for them to journey back to their homes or to civilization.
John’s gospel plainly tells us the question Jesus poses to the disciples is a test and they obviously failed the test. The real issues are what Jesus does next to help them comprehend how faith works. John does not record the question which appears in the other gospels which is Jesus asking the disciples “what do you have.” But instead, John supplies the answer to that question by having Andrew saying, there is a boy here with 5 barley loaves and two fish. Give it to me Jesus says and that is one aspect of this story I have preached about in past homilies which are in the archives if you want to purse the concept of how we look at our lack of abilities or knowledge.
But what I would like us to focus on today is the response of the disciples when Jesus broke the loaves and fish into small pieces and placed those fragments into the hands of the disciples. Filling their hands with the fragments, Jesus instructs them to go into the crowd and hand those fragments to the people to eat. Think about it for a minute, how much bread and fish can you hold in your cupped hands. Imagine taking that small amount of food into the crowd knowing that once you pour that food into the hands of a single person there would be nothing left for the person next to them.
They had to believe when they went into the crowd and began distributing food to a few people those two fish and five loaves was not going to last beyond those first peoples. There certainly would be an uproar among those whom they could not feed. Can you imagine their reaction when they returned to Jesus, and he placed more bread and fish in their hands?
Time and time again they went into the crowd and returned to Jesus only to have more bread and fish placed into their hands. Can you imagine Peter asking Andrew, how is this possible we only gave him two fish and five loaves? But you can also picture them entering the miracle as they went deeper and deeper into the crowds with food in their hands. The joy, excitement, their expectation growing and them finally understanding of how faith and trust go hand in hand.
Now I want you to imagine something else. Imagine your own hunger, what is it you need in your life right now? What are you longing for, what do you want God to provide for you right now? Do you believe Jesus is willing or unwilling or incapable of responding to your deepest need right now? Is it impossible to believe that Jesus can touch that pain in your heart and replace it with peace or joy? Daily those who are lost, lonely, broken, and damaged by the action of others live with that hunger to have those things taken away from them or at a minimum believe God knows their need.
Jesus is teaching us something about how God’s promises are awaiting us if we can get past our own limitations of what is possible. This story is revealing God’s ability to bless us is endless if only we are willing to go to him with open hearts and minds to receive what he is offering us. This story reminds us we must continue to go back to Jesus again and again and by that process we grow in faith as the disciples did that day.
This is more than a miracle story of bread and fish; it is a story reminding us of what we bring to Christ only needs to be a desire that is placed in the hands of Jesus. If we are willing to do that, to trust in God’s promises we will experience a multiplication of grace, forgiveness and healing motivating us to continue going to Jesus because we know he has more to give us.