2 Kings 4:42-44
It is a troubling question, “If Jesus can do miracles, why didn’t Jesus do the miracle I asked for? If God is so powerful as to feed thousands, why doesn’t God feed people who are starving right now?” Today we get 3 miracles: The one in the Old Testament in which Elisha feeds 100 people with 20 loaves of barley and they ate and had some left, the feeding of the 5000 in the Gospel, and the stilling of the storm in the Gospel.
These stories are about miracles, which are rare occurrences, and yet they lift up the abundance and overwhelming power of God, which is not at all rare. But first, lets look at the word “miracle.” According to Wikipedia, “A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. typically say that, with , God regularly works through nature yet, as a creator, is free to work without, above, or against it as well.” However, the word in the Gospel reading for this morning in not “miracle.” It is “sign.” That’s the word I want to explore this morning.
If these are signs, what are they telling us or pointing to?
They are signs pointing to God’s power for nutrition and healing of the hunger in our bodies as well as the deeper hungers within all of us for safety, growth, community, and fulfillment. We find that feeding is a theme throughout the Bible—we’re about to experience 6 Sundays with a focus on bread. Some pastors are a little bent out of shape having to preach on bread for so many Sundays in a row. Some, like me, can’t get enough bread, so let’s get started. God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna. People had to learn to rely on God for the manna, which they baked into cakes and breads. They had to learn not to collect more than they could use or it would become wormy. And there are other stories of feeding. A woman bakes her last flour into a cake for a prophet and she finds her flour replenished. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt because of a famine, and Joseph protects the Egyptians from the famine because of a dream. People need to eat to be healthy and health is God’s intention for creation.
These are signs telling us about God’s intention for Creation, for wholeness and new life. Certainly God made the world in balance and order, with all creatures and plants and planets in relationship, in obedience, in health. So when feeding or healing happens in the scriptures or in our lives we can see it as a returning to the way God intended things to be. We know we’ll be hungry again and sick again and eventually die, because of the breakdown of our bodies and the effects of this world on us. So we hold out the ultimate hope that in eternal life we will find ourselves fed and whole. Another way to think of this kind of feeding and healing, is not that of individuals but for the whole. Yes, bodies break down and decay, but that creats a balance of creation. In the proper order of things, our bodies would enrich the soil, plants would grow up from that, animals and people would feed on the new life, and life would be in balance, even though each of us cannot remain in good health all our lives or live forever on this earth.
They are signs helping us to trust Jesus or his power. They are saying, Jesus is different. Look to him not just for physical food, but spiritual food that really satisfies, for meaning life and the healing of relationships and creation.
They are signs telling us what or who is important to Jesus and God, his Father. Although Jesus has retired to a place very remote to get some rest from the crowds, still they come to him. Jesus could have refused them, however he makes these people a priority and he breaks bread with them. He honors their contributions to this meal. This little child who offers the 5 loaves and 2 fish has always been a key character for me since I read the little Arch book as a 6 year old. This kid does not worry if his contribution matters or could make a difference. The child simply offers it. What a lesson we could learn to simply offer what we have no matter how insignificant. Don’t worry if it will be enough, Jesus is enough, and if we keep that in mind, our fear falls away, our paralysis. With the faith of a little child, we bring our one can of beans, or we offer our small voice, or our small intellect or our small amount of time. We don’t have to conquer world hunger or feed every refugee, we can offer what little we have, and it matters to Jesus and it matters to the one or two we have fed, and it inspires others to help one or two more and before you know it 5000 people have been fed.
It matters to Jesus that those of us who can gather and contribute. He could have gone door to door, but he didn’t. He brought community together and you know that community sat down together, spent time relating to each other, and shared with each other. The story could have gone this way, that Jesus saw all the hungry people and fed them. But no, it says someone identified a child with something to share and you know when people saw the faith of that child, they looked into their own lunchbox, and perhaps they were ashamed they had been hoarding all their bread to themselves, that they hadn’t been the one with enough faith to sacrifice what would fill their own bellies. Or maybe they were inspired and saw the value of what they could contribute, too. Next thing you know, there are enough loaves, plus leftovers, enough, more than enough, an abundance.
This is why we come together as a church, because we need each other and we need to learn from each other and we need to share, to give of ourselves. Finally, and most importantly, we need to gather around Jesus who is enough and reminds us we don’t need to be afraid. We can let go, and not just of the excess, but of everything. That child gave the whole lunch away, not 10%, and there are times we will find ourselves doing the same, in death and perhaps other times as well. Let me point out one example. My heart was full of joy this week, because more than once this week, people in this congregation responded in love, took initiative and visited people who are sick and dying, prayed and sang with them, and sat with someone who was waiting for their loved one in surgery. These folks saw they had something to give, did not doubt their own gift, but stepped out in response to someone in need, asked themselves what would be helpful to them in a similar situation, asked what they could do that might be comforting, and gave all they had for a moment, a few hours. And the Kingdom of God broke into this world. These signs all pointed to God’s love and care and healing and feeding.
These events may be signs telling us who Jesus is, and who he is not. Jesus is our bread. We gather around this table and we are fed with his own body and blood. Jesus is life. Jesus is love. Jesus is sharing. Jesus is.
Jesus is not king. We call him King of Kings here, but he refused to be put on a throne. He refused to be taken from the midst of the people. I think of Pope Francis, how he regularly walks among the people, rather than hiding behind bullet-proof glass. Some Popes might find their role an excuse to remove themselves from the people, but Pope Francis is right there washing the feet of the poor, listening to the heartaches of children, in the midst of the people. He understands if he is to be a follower of Jesus, he cannot be removed. God came to us as Jesus to walk in our midst, not be protected, defined, whisked away to a throne room to be controlled, to charge admission, to become a fountain of bread or power or healing or control over storms.
It says in the reading that the crowd tried to carry Jesus off to make him king. We try to crown kings all the time. We find a success and we try to crown it king, to worship at its feet, to be blessed by it. We find a food that is good and try to make it king, chia seeds, or the paleo diet, quinoa, or bottled water. We try to make kings of sports figures and politicians or movie stars, of policies and regulations, but really we’re just trying to crown ourselves, make ourselves look good, give ourselves an easier life, because we are afraid we aren’t enough. The same was true of this crowd.
It was not Jesus the people wanted to be king over them, or they would have deferred to him what his rulership would mean or look like. Neither can we dictate that Jesus was someplace and not another based on who is fed and healed, or who has access to Jesus or who lives or dies. He came, as he clearly states, so that none may be lost. None of us so small or insignificant or crumby that we don’t matter. Every single bit of us matters to Jesus and when we regard each other we can remember that each one matters to Jesus and to the whole of creation, so each one is treated with respect, as vital to the health and wholeness of all. And Jesus is enough. Let that fearful little voice, that feeling in the pit of your stomach of dread, know that Jesus is in our midst. Jesus is enough. Jesus is gathering us together. Leave your preconceived ideas behind and let Jesus be Jesus, shepherd, healer, nearby, provider, powerful friend, ally of the poor, gatherer, enough.
Why do some get miracles and others not? If we don’t see a sign, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus isn’t there. We ask that we might open our eyes to signs around us and be the signs that point to God as King and Jesus as healer and the closeness of the Kingdom of God.