Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Jesus Multiplies the Offering

Date: 29 July, 2012


On top of the mountain, the Twelve focus on Jesus as he sits and teaches, but the growing babble of the nearing multitude slowly crowds in. At first, the disciples put the sound out of their ears, not really realizing what they're hearing. Then, slowly, it creeps in, causing annoyance first, then frustration. They are trying to listen to Jesus teach, after all. So they double-down and focus all the harder.

Until, that is, Jesus just stops talking. He looks over the heads of his disciples at the rabble. Some are bearing stretchers. Some are crying. They have been following Jesus because, as John would later write, "they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick." The crowd wanted a piece of what Jesus was offering.

But instead of performing the sign that the crowd expects, Jesus puts a question to his disciples, specifically to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" As Philip turns to see the gathering throng, counting, (what is that 5,000 people?) he misses the twinkle in Jesus' eye, the twinkle that says that Jesus already knows what he is going to do. Turning back, Philip plows ahead, a bit defensively perhaps, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." The disciples pat their purses, remembering what it was like to have wages in them. Even if they had money, there would be no place to go to buy that amount of food. Did they have anything that they could set before Jesus?

Andrew pipes up, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish." Seven little bits of food for 5,000? Andrew looks down at the boy’s offering and finishes everyone’s thought, "But what are they among so many people?"


"Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" Jesus asks us. We have gathered here to sit at Jesus' feet. St. Bene’t’s is down in the ground, not on top of a mountain, but the effect is the same. We have gathered, and for nearly 1,000 years, the crowds have come. And the crowds that darken our door, and the crowds we can now see throughout our world, are afflicted by so much: civil war in Syria, sickness in Africa, massacre in America, poverty and isolation here in Cambridge. "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"

It’s here that many of our best instincts kick in. We reach for our purses but cannot find the six months wages it would take to help. We look at the scraps of gifting and talent we do have, and the networks we could ask for more help, but against the tide of evil that threatens to overtake our world, what are they among so many people?

We don't have Jesus sitting beside us in person. We haven’t been there as he has healed the sick and made the lame to dance for joy. No, all it seems we have is ourselves. And, we can very readily begin to despair. We come to believe that this feeling of despair, this deep darkness within us, is itself the problem, so we seek to medicate it. And the world around us is happy to help us self-medicate just enough to forget the injustices and cruelties that thrive around us.

G. K. Chesteron wrote of someone representing this eager world: "'Drink,' he says, 'for you know not whence you come nor why. Drink, for you know not when you go nor where. Drink, because the stars are cruel and the world as idle as a humming-top. Drink, because there is nothing worth trusting, nothing worth fighting for. Drink, because all things are lapsed in a base equality and an evil peace'." What are our meagre offerings among so many people?


To the look of despair in his disciples' faces, Jesus says, "Make the people sit down." Taking the boy's meagre offering, Jesus holds it and gives his Father thanks and then breaks it, distributing it to the people who were seated on the great expanse of grass at the base of the hill. He then takes the fish and does the same thing, and the crowd eats until they are satisfied. "Gather up the fragments left over," Jesus says to his disciples, "so that nothing may be lost." So the disciples go to work in silence. When they are done, they have twelve baskets full of bread, one basket for every tribe of Israel, one basket for each of them. It is a Sign, as John calls them, not an ordinary miracle. This Sign says something about Jesus himself.

And the crowd understands this. Once everyone has eaten their fill, the whispers begin. Didn't Moses feed the people bread from heaven? Didn't Moses promise that one day a prophet like him would arise? John writes, "When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, 'This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world'." A hopeful, an almost ecstatic tension begins rippling through the seated multitude. The word "King" becomes audible, and Jesus realizes that they are about to force him into something for which he is not yet prepared. So, he withdraws from the crowd and from the disciples before they can put him on their shoulders and carry him to Jerusalem.

A little while later, the disciples start their return trip to Capernaum across the Sea of Galilee. The wind picks up about halfway through the journey, but then suddenly Jesus is there, walking across the water like no prophets had ever done before. "It is I; do not be afraid," he says, and the disciples find themselves immediately at safety on the other side. This Jesus who multiplies meagre offerings is something more than a prophet like Moses, something more than a political king. This Jesus who is in charge of loaves and fishes is also in charge of the wind and the waves. This Jesus is the Son of God.


And it is this Jesus at whose feet we gather today. He is the one we sing songs to. He is the one honoured in our liturgy and the one extolled in our preaching. And it is this Jesus who still has the twinkle in his eye when he asks us where we will find bread for so many people. He already knows what he is going to do when he puts the question to us, and he expects us to act as Andrew did: to offer him what we have. It might only be seven loaves worth of talent, but Jesus is in charge of loaves and fishes. It might only be two fish worth of time and money, but Jesus is in charge of the wind and the waves. To show the crowd who he was, he multiplied a meagre offering on the hillside all those years ago. He continues to do so today.

So, when the despair comes that threatens to overtake us with visions of that base equality and that evil peace, let us set before Christ our meagre offerings of bread and fish and say what our father and mothers in faith have said throughout time: "Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, come." By ourselves, we cannot hope to overcome, but Jesus is the one who multiplies our meagre offerings. Jesus is the one who will show himself faithful even here, even now.

Every week, we re-enact this faithfulness when our meagre offering is brought down the aisle to the altar. We set it before Christ and say “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” And he does. And he bids us drink, not like the world bids us drink. As Chesterton writes, "'Drink" he says 'for the whole world is as red as this wine, with the crimson of the love and wrath of God. Drink, for the trumpets are blowing for battle and this is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this is my blood of the new testament that is shed for you. Drink, for I know of whence you come and why. Drink, for I know of when you go and where'."

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

**Photo by Igor Dugonjic