I Shall Not Want

So Jesus is giving is a sign as to just how mistaken we are when we go through life believing there is just not enough for us and for them, for me and for you, for mine and for yours…

We are back in Galilee.  The multitudes are coming to Jesus, and it is a beautiful thing.  The setting is beautiful in Galilee.  Grassy slopes rising up from the Sea of Galilee, and the people were coming to Jesus in great numbers.   And Jesus is teaching them, and of course he was teaching one and one thing only, the Kingdom of God.  He was teaching them the way that their creator, whom He calls his Abba, his Father, intends for human beings to live.  It’s an alternative social structure.  It’s not a social structure based upon systemic sin, it’s a social structure based in love.  

Because this government of God, this reign and rule of God, is only constrained by two laws.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.   The cynic will say, and maybe you agree, that you just can’t build a society around that kind of law and structure.  But Jesus says, “Oh, yes you can!”  And this is exactly what it is that Jesus teaches and preaches.   

We’re told that it was Passover.  There were three Passovers in John’s Gospel.  It is from John because of this that we get that Jesus’ ministry lasts 2 1/2 – 3 years, we don’t get that from Matthew, Luke or Mark.   If we only read the synoptic gospels, we might think Jesus’ ministry only lasted about a year, but it’s from John that we see it lasted 2 1/2 – 3 years, still a very short public ministry.   On the first Passover, Jesus had gone to Jerusalem, and events there had created some trouble for him.  

Now, it is the second Passover, and Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for the Passover because of death threats.  He’d been there for an earlier festival, probably Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, and there were death threats.  It says he was not going back to Judea because the Judeans were seeking to  kill him.   When the third Passover comes around, Jesus will go to Jerusalem, and he will be killed.

So it was Passover time, but Jesus was staying in Galilee.  Passover is a Jewish table rite.  It is remembering how God delivered the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, and how God provided for them with the manna from heaven through the long journey to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.   Jesus will take that Passover meal, and he’s going to innovate.  He’s going to rework it into what we call communion.  John gives us the Eucharistic theology of Jesus at the end of this chapter.

So we’re on a grassy hillside listening to Jesus teach about the government and social structure of God.  He’s teaching how God wants the world arranged.  Not how Cain and Pharaoh and Caesar and all those want it, but how God wants it.

Then he turns to one of his disciples, Phillip, and asks him Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?    These people have needs.  They can’t just live on my words.  They are human beings.  They need bread, maybe more.   Where are we to buy bread to feed these multitudes?  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  And of course Phillip answers, probably much as we would, Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.    Phillip breaks out the calculator and figures out it would take at least $12,000 to feed them all.   So Andrew, Peter’s brother, speaks up.  There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?   Andrew immediately feels silly for saying out loud that a little boy has five barley loaves and two fish for such a vast multitude of people.  When he hears himself say it out loud, and there’s such multitude of people, but what is five barley loaves and two little fish for so many people???   But it turns out he’s onto something.  

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”   Jesus says, I think we can work with this.  Have everybody sit down.   Now there was much grass in the place.   Let them sit down in the green grass of this lovely place.  Now let’s go back to Psalm 23.   What does it say?   “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.   I shall not…what?  I shall not…come up lacking.  I shall not be insufficient.  I shall not be the victim of scarcity.  I shall not…not have enough.   “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”   We should see that the Shepherd is present here.   He sees these people as his flock, and the Shepherd knows he needs to feed his flock, so he has the sit down.  So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then 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.   The little boys lunch of five barley loaves and two fishes are given to him, he takes them he gives thanks to the Father.  He gives a prayer, thanking God that he is the provider.  He gives a prayer of thanksgiving, because God is the king of the universe, God brings forth bread from the earth.  Jesus blesses the meal, and begins to give it to the disciples, bread and fish, bread and fish, bread and fish….Jesus then 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.   He keeps reaching into the basket.   It seems as though he keeps reaching, but where’s he reaching to?   There’s five to start with, but He’s reaching into something that seems to be infinite.   How long does it take to distribute 1, 2 ,3, 4, 5 barley loaves and 1, 2 fish?   One, two,  three, four, five, six, seven, you should be done, but he’s not.  It just keeps coming.  Where’s he pulling from?   He keeps passing it out, giving it to the disciples, and the twelve are passing it out.   And it just keeps coming.  Maybe this is not a closed system after all.  It just keeps coming, He keeps reaching in and giving and giving, and he’s giving, and he’s giving….

It’s his first hands on miracle.  Water to wine, the healing of the officials son, the healing by the pool are all spoken word miracles, but Jesus has got his hands on the bread and the fish.   He’s giving out these McFish sandwiches, there you go.   And people start eating.  And they have seconds, some have thirds.  They’re not worried about their low carb diet, they just want more bread!  They eat and they’re happy and they’re having a good time, and they eat until they are filled.  And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 

They eat until they are filled.  Jesus says let’s not let anything go to waste, let’s take up the leftovers.   So from the leftovers of five barley loaves and two fish that had fed five thousand men plus women and children, there is now gathered up of the leftovers twelve baskets full.   When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”    Of course it’s a sign.  And of course it’s twelve baskets full.  It’s a sign of Israel being reconstituted.  Twelve tribes.  Twelve apostles.  Twelve, the number of God’s people.  There’s twelve baskets full, and John tells us this is what the Kingdom of God looks like!  The kingdom of Cain says there’s not enough!  We’re convinced there’s not enough!  There are only five loaves and two fish, and there’s not enough, and you better believe we’re gonna fight, because  I’m taking four…and both the fish!!!  Here, you can have this little loaf, I’m getting mine over here.   If you try to take mine, there’s going to be trouble…

And Jesus gives us a sign, another way.  There’s another way.  You’ve been lied to.   You’ve been told there’s not enough, but there is.  You’ve been lied to.  You’ve been told that scarcity and insufficiency is the paradigm through which you must view the world, but it’s a lie…

The fourth sign in Johns Gospel tells us this – we no longer live in a zero based, closed system universe.  In the incarnation, the Infinite has made contact with the finite…
So much more to say…


John Lewis

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