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Pentecost 9 July 26, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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PENTECOST 9  Proper 12  Year B
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday July 26, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
That’s a curious ending
to today’s gospel, isn’t it?
 
But we’re not going to go there.
We’re going to go
with
the five loaves of bread
          and two fish,
the five thousand people
          fed to satisfaction;
and more left over
than they started with –
          12 baskets full!
 
Immediately,
inquiring 21st century minds
seek a rational explanation
that fits with what we know
          (or think we know)
                    to be possible.
 
A lesson in sharing
is one such explanation.
 

When a boy volunteered his meager meal,
everyone else,
each with
          his or her own traveling food,
brought it out and offered it around,
          and so there was enough and more.
 
But it’s an impoverishment
to read the story
only as an event,
 
an extraordinary event to be sure,
 
but it’s an impoverishment
to remain on the story’s surface,
trying to make sense of it,
or explain what happened and how.
 
For the event itself
is but a tantalizing appetizer
to a much richer meal
of many courses.
 
When approaching Jesus’ miracles,
said 4th century theologian Augustine of Hippo,
in his “Treatise on John’s Gospel,”
we must read “inside the story.”
 

“The miracle which we admire on the outside,” he said,
“also has something inside which must be understood.”
If we see a piece of beautiful handwriting,
we are not satisfied simply to note
that the letters are formed evenly, equally and elegantly:
we also want to know the meaning the letters convey.
In the same way a miracle is not like a picture,
something merely to look at and admire, and to be left at that.
It is much more like a piece of writing
which we must learn to read and understand.” 
                                                 Augustine, “On the Gospel of John” 24.2
                                                 in Jeffrey John, The Meaning in the Miracles, Eerdmans, 2004]
 
 
Augustine is quoted by
Anglican priest Jeffrey John,
Dean of St. Alban’s Cathedral
in Hertfordshire, England,
in The Meaning in the Miracles,
a book that explores Jesus’ miracles
in order that we may learn to
“read and understand.”
 
There’s a substantial helping
          of theology in this meal of a story:
what John
(not Jeffrey John the 21st century Anglican Dean
          of St. Alban’s Cathedral,
but John the 1st century evangelist,)
 
what John the evangelist
          has come to know about Jesus,
what John the evangelist wants
          his community to know about Jesus.
 
What the other Gospel writers call a miracle –
the healings, the exorcisms, the feedings –
John calls a sign:
 
something that points beyond itself
          to a deeper truth,
 
and the truth to which
the Feeding of the 5,000 points
is who Jesus was
and what God was doing
          in Jesus.
 
Jesus,
not just another wonder-worker,
(of which there were many
in first century Palestine),
 
Jesus,
the fulfillment of God’s intent
          for the people of Israel,
          for all God’s people,
          for all of creation . . .
 
the fulfillment,
as Jesus himself said in Matthew’s Gospel,
of the Law and the Prophets,
of the Hebrew Scriptures.
         
                                                                                                 
“Do not think that I have come
          to abolish the law or the prophets;
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
                                                                                       [Matthew 5.17]                                                 
John’s community
knew their Scriptures,
which, because they were Jews,
were the Hebrew Scriptures.
 
(The Christian Scriptures
were just coming into being.)
 
They would have caught
the allusions in the Feeding of the 5,000
to the story of Moses and the Exodus.
 
Moses who led the people of Israel
          out of slavery in Egypt,
through the waters
          of the Red Sea
                   into the desert wilderness,
          a place with no food,
where God fed them with manna,
that flaky substance
that fell from the heavens
          each morning like the dew.
 
And more fell than the people needed.
 
Moses,
who later on Mount Sinai
received from God
the Ten Commandments,
the tablets of the Law.
         

Moses,
who tradition has it,
was the author of
the first five books
of the Hebrew Scriptures,
          the Torah,
          also known as the Law of Moses.
 
Moses,
the personification of the Law.
 
The Feeding of the 5,000
points to Jesus as the new Moses,
 
crossing with his disciples
over the waters
          of the Sea of Galilee
to a deserted wilderness place,
          a place with no food . . .
 
where, taking what was available
(5 barley loaves and 2 fish),
and giving thanks to God for them,
          he fed the multitude
          that had followed him.
                  
And there was more food
          than was needed. 
 
Jesus,
the new Moses,
the fulfillment of the Law.
 
 
John’s community
knew their Scriptures
and
would have seen
the parallels with the story
of Elisha’s feeding of the one hundred,
          which we heard this morning.
 
A man comes to the prophet Elisha
with an offering,
          the first fruits of his harvest:
          20 barley loaves and some ears of grain.
 
A boy in the crowd comes to Jesus
          with his lunch:
          5 barley loaves and 2 fish.
 
 
Elisha instructs his servant:
          “Give the offering to the people to eat.”
The servant’s response:
          “How can I set this
                   (implied, ridiculously small amount)
                   before a hundred people?”
         
Jesus tests his disciples:
          “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
The disciples’ indignant response:
          “6 month’s wages wouldn’t buy enough bread.”
          and
          “What are these 5 loaves and 2 fish
                   among so many people?”
 

Elisha – a prophet
          who speaks the word of God:
          “thus says the Lord,
          ‘They shall eat and have some left’.”
 
          The word of the Lord will make it so.
                            
Jesus – a prophet
          who IS the Word of God,
          the Logos of the prologue of John’s Gospel,
 
          the Word of God,
                    living and active,
                             making it so.
 
          They ate and had twelve baskets
                   left over.
 
Jesus, the new Elisha,
          the fulfillment of the Prophets. 
         
 
Looking into the miracle,
into the sign,
we come to understand
that everything promised by God
in the Law and the Prophets
was coming to fulfillment in Jesus.
 
All the history of Israel
had come to its culmination
in him.
 
Why is this important?

Because it signifies
the inauguration of God’s Kingdom . . .
the new world order,
the new Creation,
grounded in the abundance of God,
manifest in being and actions of Jesus.
 
 
And there is more
in this generous meal of a story
that fed not only John’s community,
but has been feeding
Jesus’ followers ever since . . .
 
The story appears
in all four Gospels,
but only in John’s gospel
does it lead into
Jesus’ long discourse
on the Bread of Life,
 
which
we’ll be reading
for the next four Sundays.
 
The meaning in the miracle.
 

The Feeding of the 5,000
shows us not only
how in Jesus
Israel’s past is gathered up
and brought to fulfillment,
 
but how in Jesus
the future was being realized . . .
a future found in Jesus himself.
 
 
For John,
the sign of the feeding
points to the mystery
of the presence of Jesus
          among his followers
                   across all places and all time,
 
Jesus,
the bread which came down from heaven,
the bread which gives life to the world,
the bread of the Eucharist,
          infinitely multiplying
                    for the feeding of
                             the worshipping faithful,
          foretaste of the Kingdom banquet
                   and the life everlasting.
 

The makers of the lectionary,
the 3-year plan of Scripture readings
          for the Sunday Eucharist,
have given us a gift in Year B,
this year of Mark’s Gospel,
the shortest Gospel,
 
the gift of
this interlude
of contemplating
with John,
with Jesus,
with one another,
the meaning of this bread
as it
unfolds for us
in these next four Sundays,
on us in all our Sundays,
and in our lives.