Jesus feeds 5000 people, probably one of the most classic miracle stories from the bible, present in toddler bibles it is relayed to children before they even get to Sunday Club. In fact so well known that we probably tend to turn off a little bit when we hear it yet again. Possibly, so much so that, when quizzed on the actual details people aren’t always quite so clear on the details. Did you notice how Mark describes the grass? Was it 5 fish and 2 loaves of bread, or 5 loaves and 2 fishes? And how many people actually needed to eat? Was it 5000 or 5000 men and unnumbered women and children too. How much did the disciples actually think it was going to cost to feed all these people?
This event was seen as incredibly important, it is the only miracle that is reported in all 4 of the gospels. So it is one of John’s 7 signs that Jesus is God. But today we heard it from Mark’s gospel. And the miracle is mentioned again a couple more times in ensuing conversation within Mark’s gospel. Mark’s gospel is generally believed to recount Simon Peter’s preaching. Peter preaching to many new Christians after Christ’s death. I can imagine Simon Peter there telling the story of them going off to a quiet place in a boat after a busy few days… Now many saw us going and recognised us, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of us. As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late (we were starving, our food had pretty much run out, and we wanted the peace and quiet he had promised us when we got on the boat) so we came to him and said “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late, send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered us “You give them something to eat”. “US??? Did he have any idea how much that was going to cost??” and so the story goes on.
So how much did the disciples think it was going to cost? Well maybe that one is a bit of a trick question as it depends which translation you read, the actual Greek text says the disciples said to Jesus “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread?” but this is often translated into English, such as in our reading this morning , as “That would take more than half a years wages, are we to go and spend that much on bread?” to try and give some idea of how much 200denarii actually meant to the disciples at the time. I suppose in modern money, if they were looking at feeding maybe 10000 men, women and children even ¼ of a loaf of bread it would cost us over three thousand pounds! Not the sort of cash to be carrying around in your pocket to a deserted place.
In his retelling of the event Mark manages to capture the disciples frustration and incredulity, possibly even irritation at being asked to feed the people. These are the disciples who have just come back rejoicing after being sent out by Jesus to preach the good news, and they have been able to cast out demons and anoint people with oil and they have been healed. Feeding the people suddenly appears to be a mundane and costly exercise, especially if these people were capable of walking to the neighbouring villages themselves and sorting their own food out.
The disciples in their own exhaustion fail to remember to rely on Jesus. They previous mood of exhilaration and rejoicing has been replaced by one of scarcity and fear. It can be very easy in our churches today to focus on the negative. The big building projects that we want to do but can’t see how we can possibly afford it. Projects to provide the homeless with shelter, but isn’t that the council’s responsibility, not ours? The new church that is opening down the road with apparently unlimited funds, there’s not enough Christians to go around already, why do we need another church?
But the miracle this morning reminds us that God is not a God of scarcity but a God of abundance. Just as Jesus took the bread and fishes offered by the disciples, looked to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and then gave them to the disciples to distribute, we have a God who breaks and blesses the work of our hands and re-distributes in generosity. This doesn’t mean that we should be frivolous with the church’s money, taking on projects without thinking through the financial implications. Notice how the work is carefully planned before Jesus enacts the miracle. To start with there is just a crowd of thousands of people. Before Jesus blesses the bread he asks the disciples to arrange the people into groups on the green grass. So they sit down in groups of 100 or 50. Now it becomes clear how they knew there was a crowd of 5000 men, the groups of people were so much easier to count. Only when all the plans are in place does Jesus then take the disciples offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish and blesses them. He then gives the loaves to the disciples to distribute first and then he divides the fish. The disciples don’t only have to bring the small amount that they have to Jesus for it to be used, they need to continue to be present and taking part, for the miracle to work.
Each week as we offer our gifts to God on the collection plate we say the prayer All things come from you O Lord, and of your own do we give you. Everything we offer to God he has already gifted to us, whether financial or our talents or our time. Jesus asked his disciples, “What do you have?” He asks the same of us, “What do you have?” so that he can bless it, break it and increase it.
We need to abandon the myth of scarcity and instead celebrate a liturgy of abundance.