Deacon Cornell’s Homily


2 Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15


July 26-27, 2003, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

This gospel story of the feeding of the 5,000 is one of the central stories of Jesus’ ministry. It appears in all 4 Gospels, essentially the same, and in each Gospel it appears at a crucial time in Jesus’ ministry. Today we hear John’s version, even though we have been listening to Mark’s Gospel in this year B of the lectionary cycle.

The story is so familiar that many of us no longer pay attention to it when we hear it.

Stop for a minute and replay the story in your mind. As you do, think about whom you identify with in the story. We did this last week in the small faith group I am in, and it was really interesting to hear whom people identified with; some identified with several characters or groups in the story. Interestingly, no one identified with one of the main characters: the boy who had the loaves and the fishes. Today I would like to reflect on the story from the point of view of that boy.

The boy woke up early and excitedly that morning. It was almost Passover and he loved to go down to the road that ran along the Sea of Galilee to watch the pilgrims heading south to Jerusalem for the great feast. After breakfast, his mother made him a small meal of some barley loaves and a couple of salted fish. She cautioned him not to eat it all at once because that is all he would have for the day. She and his father were going down to Tiberias to see if they could work with his uncle harvesting barley, because there was no work in their own village.

After his parents left, the boy made his way down to the road and sat there watching the small groups of people winding their way down to Jerusalem. After a while he realized that many of them were talking about the same thing, a young rabbi who had been working wonders all around Galilee, healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising a dead girl to life. He remembered his parents talking about this same rabbi. Except for a few people who came from the town where the rabbi grew up, who said that he was not able to perform any miracles at home, everyone was talking about the wonderful things he was doing. And now even his disciples seemed to be doing the same.

All of sudden the trickle of pilgrims swelled into a large crowd hurrying down the road. He spotted a friend of his and called out to him, asking him what was happening. The friend told him that the young rabbi and some of his disciples were in a boat that appeared to be heading for Tiberias, just to the south, and everyone was rushing to meet him, to see if he would work any more miracles. Without thinking, the boy said wait to his friend, ran inside and stuffed his packet of loaves and fishes into his shirt, and rushed off with the crowd. He had been to Tiberias to visit his Uncle Phillip and he knew he could get home before his parents.

When he got to the outskirts of Tiberias the crowd veered left off the road away from the water and towards some hills. As they approached the large crowd, he could see a young man standing on a rock talking to the people. He asked some of the crowd if that was the rabbi everyone was talking about it. When they said yes, he wormed his way, as only young boys can do, through crowd, almost up to the front row, when he saw his Uncle Phillip standing next to the rabbi as he spoke. The boy ducked down behind a rather large woman standing in the front row with her son. He did not understand everything the rabbi was saying it, but the way he was talking mesmerized him. After a while, he saw his uncle say to the rabbi, “It is late; why don’t we send them to the villages to get something to eat. “ The rabbi smiled at his uncle and said, “You and the other disciples give them something to eat.” His uncle looked at the rabbi as if he were crazy, “Even if we could get that much food, it would cost 200 days wages!” The rabbi just smiled again, and told his uncle and another disciple he called Andrew to ask the people to sit down, and then see what they could do. The disciples started asking people if they had any food to share. The boy noticed that people started to look around at each other and move away from each other. The travelers, especially, put their hands protectively over their pouches. The boy in front of him started to put his hand in his mother’s pouch but she brushed it away and whispered, “No Simon, we only have enough for us; he means those rich travelers who have lots of food.” The boy remembered his mother’s warning about his food but his heart was bursting. Every time he looked around at the rabbi, it seemed as if the rabbi was looking right at him and smiling as if he knew the boy had food. Finally he couldn’t stand it; overcoming his fear that his uncle would punish him for wandering off, he stood up and said the disciple named Andrew,  “I have some food.” Reaching into his shirt, he handed the loaves and fishes to him. As Andrew started towards the rabbi, unwrapping the packet, everyone started snickering as they saw what was in it. What good would a few loaves and a couple of fish do? But the rabbi was not laughing. He took the food and smiled at the boy. Everyone stopped as the rabbi looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God for his abundance and care for his people. Then he told Andrew and the others to start passing out the loaves and fishes. Suddenly the boy realized that everyone was eating, so he too ate what he had been given. Suddenly the rabbi was standing in front of him. He smiled and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders, “Thank you. You gave all that you had, and that empowered me to feed all these people. What you had was more than enough.” The disciples were going through the crowd, gathering up the leftovers.

Just then he felt a familiar hand on his shoulder. It was his Uncle Phillip and his mother and father. As the crowd rushed toward the rabbi to try to capture his power, the boy and his family carried the twelve baskets home, no longer hungry because of the boy’s generosity.

Whether we think of this story as a suspension, or breaking, of the laws of nature, or the effect of Jesus on the crowd that enabled them share what they thought was not enough, the important thing is not to look at this as some magic trick Jesus played. The story is not about Jesus reaching into his bag of divine powers and making food appear to show his power or prove his divinity. The version we just heard from John's Gospel makes it quite clear that the people who saw things this way are the very ones that Jesus ran away from and hid from.

It is perhaps clearest in Mark’s version that all of the miracles that Jesus worked depended in some way on those around him. Just a few Sundays ago, we heard Mark tell us that in his own hometown, Jesus could not perform any miracles because of their lack of faith. And it is in Mark’s version of today’s story that Jesus explicitly tells the disciples themselves to feed the crowd. That point of view is important to me because it reminds me that God has chosen us to help distribute his abundany gifts. In the opening prayer, we prayed that we might use wisely the gifts we have been blessed with in this world.

Here we are today, in Stow, Massachusetts, surrounded by God’s abundant gifts. But in the midst of this abundance we have almost one in every 5 children under 12, some 213,000, going hungry or in danger of going hungry. In 2001, Project Bread served 31 million meals in Massachusetts, and that number is rising. I would hope that this story, especially from the point of view of the boy, would inspire us to realize that what God has already given us is more than enough, no matter how little we may think it to be. Bring what you have to Jesus, and trust in him to turn it into an overflowing abundance.

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