Empty Hands and the Bread of Life
Let me cut right to the chase here. The real miracle that we hear about in our Gospel reading this morning isn’t that Jesus was able to turn five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed a large crowd of at least 5000 people. No. The real miracle, what God’s multiplying of those five loaves and two fish is intended to show, is that by coming to Jesus himself, every person who seeks him can obtain the true bread: eternal life.
That’s what the terms, the food of life or manna from heaven is. It isn’t simply the kind of bread that turns into glucose that’s broken down by insulin and used by our cells to fuel our bodies. It is existence itself. Life with God forever. If you take nothing else from this sermon, take that.
We are certainly right to call Jesus’s multiplication of five loaves and two fish into enough to feed 5000 a miracle. A miracle is something beyond our natural or normal experiences in life. It is a supernatural event. Do I believe this one was true in that it actually happened? Yes. Why do I believe this? Because I believe that God who created us in perfect love to love perfectly, is relentless in getting our attention, in calling and drawing us back to that perfection for which we starve day in and day. Our starvation isn’t merely physical. After all, most people, although sometimes hungry and sometimes starving, can generally find the food we need to eat even if it means we have to go into town or even move to another country or go hunting and searching to find it.
Our true hunger is to return to an existence where we don’t have people who go hungry, where we don’t have a world in which we and our families and friends suffer, where we don’t have wars that kill and maim and terrify, and set a whole world in anxious motion. Our true hunger is a world in which people might share and exchange for what they need, not one in which some have so much extra while many have so very little, where this discrepancy creates rage, and violence, depression, envy, bitterness, militant groups, corruption, terrorist organisations and all out wars. Our hunger - if we are not sociopaths - is that we all might flourish, building one another up rather than tearing down, loving rather than hating, giving hope rather than causing anguish and pain.
To this hunger God comes not with only enough bread to feed a measly 5000 people of the billions who have ever lived, but with his very life; with his love extended beyond our own hatred, our turning from him and so turning against one another. He comes right through our insecurity that grows into blindness, our fear that grows into deafness; he comes right through our frailty and weakness, through our suffering and anguish, our lashing out in judgement and condemnation, he comes right through our loss, he comes and he bears all of these things in his own fleshly body. He takes our rejection right through his hands and feet, right into his ribs where water pours out. He takes it willingly not because he is a masochist or because his Father is, but because this is the only way that the beings whom he created can receive and be born again into the eternal life with God for which they were made.
When we go to God, as the crowds in our parable did, we go in hunger; our hands empty, our capacity to live as we were made to live starved to death. We have nothing to eat. We have nothing, that is, to offer to God. And yet God not only fills us with life by drawing us into himself, he makes provision of 12 loaves, 12 loaves beginning with the faith of 12 apostles, who will go out to share this Gospel of Christ come for all who will go to him empty handed in repentance, with the entire world. One apostle, one disciple at a time through the regenerative waters of baptism, out into the desert of life to face the temptations of this world, but with the rock of Christ who secures us from the Devil’s temptations when we turn to and drink from this foundation stone of life. AMEN.