Loaves and Fishes. And Something More

Mark *;30-44 / Liturgical Date (Proper) / 22 July 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

Five loaves and two fish in the hands of Jesus feed a wilderness party of 5000 men, not counting women and children, with twelve baskets full of leftovers. This is the kind of miracle we can sink our teeth into. Literally.

Jesus refused to do a similar miracle in the wilderness when He was being tempted by the devil. Then the temptation was to turn stones into bread to feed His own empty stomach. But Jesus would not do it, for “man lives not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It would not be Jesus’ way to use His power to serve Himself. He came to be the servant of all and to lay His life down. And, it would not have been Jesus’ way to destroy one thing to make something else. He will not destroy stones to turn them into bread.

Jesus’ way is to multiply, to take one thing and add to it, to create from nothing or very little in great abundance. He turns water into wine overflowing; He takes five little loaves and two fish and turn them into a feast for five thousand with leftovers, twelve baskets full of leftovers.

Jesus was really just trying to get away from the crowds. Catch a little R&R with His Twelve after they returned from their little mission trip. It was supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation, but the crowds wouldn’t leave them alone. Jesus could have politely dismissed them, sent them on their way. But He had compassion on them. He looked at the aimless mob of people who followed Him everywhere and it literally wrenched His guts. They were like sheep without a shepherd, and so He began to teach them many things.

Sheep without a shepherd. That doesn’t mean they were leaderless and in need of organization. They were not a mob in need of an organizer or a leader. They were dependent, vulnerable, wandering sheep in need of the care of a shepherd. A pastor (that’s what shepherd means). And so He taught them many things. That’s what spiritual shepherds do. They teach. Teaching is spiritual feeding, for we do not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Well, the teaching went on well past the dinner hour. They were in a desolate, wilderness area. No food courts. No McDonalds. Nothing to feed a crowds of 5000 plus. The disciples solution is sensible and practical. Dismiss them and send them to the surrounding villages and have them buy something to eat.

Jesus’ solution is completely insensible and impractical if not downright insane. “You give them something to eat.” I sometimes wish the Bible came with an accompanying video clips so we could see the looks on the disciples’ faces. Can you imagine it? Twelve guys who were just told to take no money, no bag, no provisions with them but rely on the goodness and mercy of others are now being told, “Go and feed these 5000 hungry pilgrims.

“What are you talking about, Jesus? Are we supposed to go into town and buy 200 denarii worth of bread to feed them? There isn’t a bakery around who could make that much without an advance order, and where are we supposed to get two hundred day’s wages. You just told us not even to take a money bag with us. Get real Jesus. We need to organize this mob into teams, and have each team go into a different village, and just hope and pray that a riot doesn’t ensue. See what happens when you preach too long? People miss brunch and start to cranky.”

“How many loaves do you have,” Jesus asked them. Five. And a couple of fish we bummed from a kid. Now what?

He had them sit in groups of fifty or a hundred on the green grass. The shepherd was feeding His flock, leading them to good pasture. And taking the meager offering of five little loaves and two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven to His Father, from whom all blessings flow, blessed the bread and fish and began breaking them up, handing the pieces to the Twelve who then fed the people.

He was teaching His Twelve to minister. They would be the church’s first pastors, the foundation of apostolic ministry. He was teaching them how it would go. He would be the source, they would do the feeding. He would work the kitchen, they would be the runners and the waiters, bringing His food to the people. And if you are hearing a hint of the Lord’s Supper going on here, you are quite correct. Jesus is the chef as well as the food; His pastors are the waiters and runners. He takes our humble offering of bread and wine and multiplies it, not in quantity but in nutritive value. Superabundant bread and wine in excelsis. Something more and greater: His own Body and Blood given and shed for your salvation.

There were twelve baskets full of leftovers, one for each of the Twelve. What was Jesus teaching there? That His pastors could trust that there would be leftovers for them to sustain them. That as they preached and fed others, they too would hear and be fed. That His Word preached would find its way into their own ears and have the same killing and making alive effect that it does in their hearers. That His Body and Blood would also be given to them as food and drink to sustain them, even if it was at their own hand.

It’s an odd place to be as a pastor. We preach to ourselves. We feed ourselves. And yet we must hear our preaching as God speaking to us through His office. And we must receive the Supper of Christ from our own hand as though a pastor were communing us. We even talk to ourselves at the altar and say, “The Body of Christ given for you,” the Blood of Christ shed for you.” Believe me when I say that it’s strange. It’s an occupational hazard of sorts. It’s why I enjoy sitting the pew now and then, why going to three weeks of youth conferences has been so spiritually refreshing in spite of being physically demanding. I get to be fed by another. I get to be a hearer and receiver without worrying about what’s next and who’s next.

I think sometimes we take this business of receiving far too lightly. We want to be busy doing. It’s all the rage these days to talk about participation in worship as though receiving was not the most important thing going on, that everyone has to be doing something. Even in receiving there is plenty to do. We have hymns to sing and creeds to confess and Amens to tack on at the end of the prayers. We have a liturgy that calls for all hands on deck. Worship is not a spectator sport by any means. But the most important thing is not what comes out of you but what goes into you. What comes out of you is always full of sin because a sinner is doing it. Even your hymn singing and creed confessing and praying are tainted by sin because a sinner is doing it. Even my acts of preaching and presiding are full of sin because a sinner is doing that too.

The most important thing that happens is that we are fed by our Good Shepherd Jesus with His Word and with His Supper. Receiving. Without receiving there will be no giving.

There are pastors and churches around today who would view church as a kind of Amway multilevel marketing scheme and worship as a pep rally for the sales force, corporate rah-rah to get the sales force pumped up to hit the streets and sell the product. And you’d be challenged to bring in the numbers. How many people did you bring to church this morning? How many people did you evangelize this week? How many lives have you transformed lately? You’d be challenged, and we like challenges, don’t we? At least some of us do until we’re burned out being challenged. You’d be organized and mobilized and put to work building the kingdom, though it wouldn’t be the kingdom of God you would be building because man doesn’t build God’s kingdom. Jesus does, with His incarnation, dying and rising. And He’s finished with it.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t all sorts of stuff to do, but in kingdom terms it amounts to five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand. But it’s Jesus who multiplies, Jesus who feeds, Jesus who takes what little we have to offer and like a shepherd feeding His flock gives to us what we could not supply for ourselves.

Bread and fish were a messianic sign, by the way. The bread would recall manna from heaven. Fish was regarded as a foretaste of the messianic age when the whole creation would feast on the flesh of Leviathan, the great sea monster, the image of the devil himself. This feeding in the wilderness, as every feeding at the hands of Jesus, is a foretaste of a coming feast, the feast of salvation and life that awaits us at the resurrection.

Did the crowds get it? Of course not. In John’s version of this story, the people immediately tried to seize Jesus to make him king. What better king than one who could multiply bread! Now there’s an economic plan that’s sure to please the voters! But Jesus is not that sort of king, nor is His kingdom built on signs and wonders. He had a death to die and a resurrection to rise. He had a greater food to give, a greater meal to prepare. The one you receive here.

In the name of Jesus,