What’s your favourite story in the gospels? It’s a question I like to ask when I visit churches for informal meetings. Time and again, over the years, the story that comes to the top of the list is today’s bible reading: the feeding of the five thousand. I wonder if it’s yours.
It’s a story that begins when Jesus and the disciples are exhausted and they need to get away – a good story for the beginning of August. Jesus withdraws by boat to a deserted place. But the crowds follow him, thousands and thousands of people.
Jesus has compassion on them and heals the sick. We love Jesus for his humanity. We love that he is exhausted and we love that he puts his tiredness aside for the sake of the crowds.
At the end of the day, the disciples try to take over and manage the situation. We might have done the same.
“Send the crowds away so that they might go into the villages and buy food for themselves”. But Jesus gives his disciples a seemingly impossible challenge. “They need not go away. You yourselves give them something to eat”. The problem is set.
The disciples look around at the vast crowd. Five thousand men with women and children. There is nothing for miles around. They see the sun beginning to set over the western hills. They look at one another.
Their response is a curious mixture of honesty and hope.
We have nothing here….that’s the honesty. We have nothing here but….five loaves and two fish. Did you hear the but? That’s the hope.
Every authentic call of God has that curious mixture of honesty and hope: it’s that mixture which takes us away from ourselves and draws us into God.
We have nothing here but….five loaves and two fish. This is why we love this story: because we see it lived out in the life of the church year by year.
We look at the vast needs in the communities around us. We see children going hungry. We hear Jesus say: you yourselves give them something to eat. We say: “We have nothing here….but maybe we could start a foodbank, or a breakfast club, or a meals service for the shielding”.
We look at the financial needs of our churches. We say, truthfully, we have nothing but perhaps we could give something extra because the needs are so great.
We look at the children and young people of our churches who need loving and caring for and teaching the faith. We have nothing ….but if there’s no-one else, I could offer the little I do have.
We look at the vast needs in the world in the Disasters Emergency Appeal. We have nothing to match that need. But we could text and give £10.
We see our local church has no Wardens or treasurer. We have nothing it seems – but I could offer some of my spare time in retirement.
Jesus takes five loaves and two fish, the little we have, sincerely offered. Jesus gives thanks. He breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. The disciples give it to the crowds. A miracle happens. And all ate and were filled.
Every Eucharist, every service of Holy Communion, is a sign and a re-enactment of this story. The priest takes ordinary bread and wine, offered by God’s people. The priest gives thanks, breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. All are fed by the very bread of heaven, the presence of Christ.
And then, at the end of the service, we offer our very lives to God, all that we have. God takes what is offered and turns it into a miracle.
We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.