July 29, 2018 - Feeding the Multitude

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near.  When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?"  He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little."  One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?"  Jesus said, "Have the people recline."  Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.  So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.  Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.  When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted."  So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.  When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world."  Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

John 6:1-15;  See also Luke 9:15-17

It may seem that this passage is either about magic or morality.  Either it is intended to show Jesus was capable of incredible miracles, or it is intended to be a powerful moral lesson about sharing.  Several  respected theologians have asserted that this story is about how, moved by Jesus’ good example, the crowd added bread and fish to the communal basket as it was passed around.
In fact, it was likely a literary device deliberately imitating the story in 2 Kings 4 where Elisha multiplies four barley loaves (the fact that the loaves are barley in both stories is a clue) to feed one hundred men. How likely is it that the message of the great prophet Elisha was that we need to share more?  Did the Creator of the Universe become Incarnate to encourage more sharing?  I think both stories were meant to convey the abundance of God's loving concern for us.  We don't have to fight over God's attention like it is a scarce resource.  The fact that God loves you doesn't mean there is less for me. God's love is abundant and there is even love left over.  This is a radical, counter-cultural message about the nature of God that few can accept because it makes God's love truly unconditional, which we naturally don't like.  Instead, we prefer to use this story to make what is finally a utterly uncontroversial, bland statement about the benefits of altruism.