Jesus Feeds People Again . . . and Again
Jesus Feeds People Again . . . and Again
August 28, 2016 Feed the World Sunday August 28, 2016
You may have thought Rick made a mistake in reading the gospel when he said that Jesus fed "about 4000 people." You were too polite to interrupt, but you wanted to say, "No, that’s 5000. Jesus fed the 5000, not the 4000." How many of you knew that Jesus did both? In Mark 6 there’s the famous story of Jesus feeding the 5000, but just two chapters later he does it again, this time for a crowd of 4000 people. Oh, there are a few differences: 4000 instead of 5000, seven loaves instead of 5, "a few fish: instead of 2. But essentially it’s the same story. Why, I wonder, did Jesus do the same thing twice? And with only 16 chapters to work with, why did Mark take time to tell the same story twice? Well, let me give you three answers to those questions.
- Scholars say that the places mentioned in each story suggest that the 5000 was a Jewish crowd, while the 4000 were Gentiles. Jesus is making the still controversial point that all of God’s children deserve to eat—Jews and Gentiles, citizens and immigrants, employed and unemployed. In the boat with Jesus later on, Mark says the disciples had only "one loaf" with them. Jesus’ intention is that we don’t need one loaf for Jews and another for Gentiles, one for "us" and another for "them." One loaf is all that’s needed.1
Fuad Bahnan, an Arab born in Jerusalem, was the pastor of a small Christian church in predominantly Muslim West Beirut.2 In 1983 the Israeli army pushed north into Lebanon. Leaders of Pastor Bahnan’s church were worried that the Israelis would take Beirut and try to starve out any Palestinian fighters who remained. So they decided to buy vast amounts of canned goods and store them at the church, just in case.
And their fears came to pass. West Beirut was entirely cut off. No one could enter or leave. No food was allowed in. The leaders of Pastor Bahnan’s church met again, to make arrangements to distribute the food they’d stockpiled Two proposals were put on the table. One was to distribute the food first to church members, then as supplies permitted, to other Christians, and finally, if any was left over, to the Muslims. The second proposal was just the opposite: to distribute food first to their Muslim neighbors, then to other Christians, and finally, if any was left, to members of their church. The meeting lasted six hours. It ended when one elderly woman, well-respected, stood up and cried out, "If we don’t demonstrate the love of Christ in this place, who will?" The food was distributed first to Muslims, then to other Christians, and finally to themselves. In the end, there was enough for everyone. Jesus feeds both Jews and Gentiles, both Muslims and Christians. We need only one loaf; he wants us all to eat together.
2. That’s one reason Jesus did the feeding thing twice—Jews and Gentiles. Here’s another reason: we disciples are such forgetful people. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus makes it known that he wants to feed the crowd, but the disciples ask, "How can we feed all these people with bread here in the desert?" Hello! Just two chapters ago they’d fed an even bigger crowd with even less food. Have they completely forgotten?
Later, when they were alone, Jesus asked them, "Why are you talking about not having any bread? . . . When I broke the five loaves for the 5000, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?"
"Twelve," they mumble, looking down at their feet.
"And the seven loaves for the 4000, how many baskets of broken pieces did you collect?
"Seven," they whispered.
"Don’t you understand?" he asked them. And the truth is: when it comes to sharing and remembering how Jesus always makes it enough, no, we don’t seem to understand. We disciples are such forgetful people! So Jesus just keeps reminding us, and asking us to feed hungry people.
3. So that’s two reasons why Jesus fed the crowds not just once, but twice: once for Jews and again for Gentiles, he wants everyone to eat together; and because we are so forgetful—he’s got to do it again and again so we will remember. Here is one last reason why Jesus has to feed the crowds again: because they need to eat again. Feeding people for Jesus is not a one-off miracle; it’s a way of life.
When I was in grade school I often visited the home of a friend whose grandma from Germany lived with them. And whenever it was meal time, or just snack time, he’d go to her and say, "Grandma, we’re hungry."
And she would always respond the same way. She’d always say, "You vant to eat again?"
"Vell, all right, let’s go see vat ve’ve got." And she’d put mountains of delicious food in front of us. And the answer is still yes—yes, Grandma, ve vant to eat again. And so do all our neighbors. Again and again.
Here’s the thing about Jesus feeding the crowds of people: so far as I can tell, never once in the Bible does Jesus himself ever give people food. Rather as Suzanne Henderson has noted, "Though Jesus presides over the miracle, he does so by empowering his companions."3 The disciples have the food, and the disciples give the food to the people. What Jesus does is remind them to share their food and bless it along the way. When those things take place, the miracle of everybody eating always happens.
I saw in the news last week about a tiny Baptist church outside Shreveport that happened to be on a ridge higher than the surrounding land. And during the flood and recovery there that church has fed thousands of people, not just once but day after day. They have fed many times more people than there are members of their church. It would seem impossible, but that’s what Jesus does.
Here at Maple Grove we’ve got quite a few food-related ministries:
- Pastor’s Pantry makes bag lunches for homeless neighbors who come to CRC
- Feed My Sheep makes sandwiches for the Faith on 8th homeless shelter and takes canned goods to food pantries
- A group of woman serves lunch every month at NNEMAP, sometimes a hundred people more
- Another team serves children’s summer lunches up at Broad Meadows
- As you’ve heard every August Feed the World Sunday feeds up to 8500 people in one day.
- And our newest venture is that dinner every first Thursday at CRC. When we started it, there was some anxiety. Is it too much? Can we get enough food? Will there be enough volunteers? (That was my anxiety, by the way.) We only ask those questions because we’re such forgetful disciples. We forget that the miracle is this: if we will only share what we’ve got, Jesus will bless it and make it enough. Because we all need to eat again . . . and again.
1 See Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), 225-26.
2 Michael L. Lindvall, The Christian Life: A Geography of God (Louisville: Geneva Press, 2001), 125-26.
3 Suzanne Watts Henderson, Christ and Community: The Gospel Witness to Jesus (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 70-71.