Many of us are familiar with the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-15), a story we’ll encounter in worship Sunday, July 29.
John’s version of the story occurs after Jesus performs a healing in Jerusalem, has a discussion about his authority as the Son of God, and heads north to the Sea of Galilee. Like Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt, Jesus was followed by a large crowd. John doesn’t want us to miss this parallel. In John 5, Jesus tells his detractors that Moses wrote about him and that the Scriptures give witness to who he is.
But John wants his readers to understand that Jesus is more than a new Moses. While Moses asked God for food to feed the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 11:13), Jesus differs in his actions. Jesus’ question to Philip in John 6:5 (“Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”) doesn’t arise out of concern for not knowing what action to take, but out of complete trust that God acts when Jesus acts.
If the mission is overwhelming and resources are scarce, we are told to use what is available. In this case the resources were a small amount of food—five barley loaves and two fish—from a small boy. With faith and confidence in God, Jesus stretches the food to feed the crowd. He even has leftovers!
Sometimes less is better. In a time when church attendance and membership is declining, it may be that the future church won’t have universities, fancy agencies or beautiful buildings. It may be that the future church has only five barley loaves and two fish. If that’s all we have, we’ll still be OK because we have Jesus—the “Great I am”; the one who is both our source of hope and our hope; the one who provides sustenance and is sustenance himself; the one who is our heavenly bread. We, too, will receive the resources we need and have 12 baskets left—a sign that God’s reign and presence is in our midst.
We can’t control Jesus to conform to our expectations. We can’t make him our king, as the crowds in John 6 wanted. Our definition of kingship is beneath Jesus and tainted with hatred and blind nationalism. Just as Jesus is more than Moses, he exceeds whatever expectations we have about him.
Jesus is the sign from God that signals to the world that God cares. God, through Jesus, has pitched a tent in our midst. God won’t abandon us or leave us orphans. God won’t let us go hungry. When the storms rage and the sea is rough, Jesus will be there to tell us, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20). Amen.