July 29, 2018 – 10 Pentecost B, Proper 12
2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
One year when I was maybe about 10 years old, while our family was vacationing at the beach in South Carolina, my dad asked if I wanted to go deep sea fishing. Adults, when they are invited to do something a little unusual, get a little anxious and often say no but kids almost always say yes. I said yes and off we went to Murrells Inlet where we climbed aboard a charter fishing boat with about 20 other people. As we began the long ride out to the open sea, I gravitated toward the very front of the large boat where I could watch where we were going. The weather was a little windy that day and the Atlantic always has a little chop and soon the boat was rising and falling with the waves. It felt a little like a roller coaster with the boat going up and down, up and down, with the occasional splash of water in my face to make things even more exhilarating.
After a while I left my spot at the front of the boat to find a bathroom. As I turned around I saw that very few of the people who had been on deck when we started were still there. At the center of the boat was an enclosed space with a bench around the sides full of people. As I came inside I quickly noticed that those people weren’t having as much fun as I was. A number of them were holding bags in their hands and others had their heads between their knees. As I watched someone throw up into one of those little bags, I heard someone else utter the phrase “sea sick.” While I was having quite the adventure way out on the bow of the boat riding up and down, up and down, others were having another experience. That’s the way it often is with kids and adults: the kids are enjoying the ride and the adults are anxious and queasy.
The lesson before us today is maybe the most well-known of all the miracle stories. Jesus feeds the five thousand. It’s the only miracle that is reported in all four gospels and the accounts are all very much the same. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all read almost identically. John’s account is very close but John’s account involves a young boy, maybe about the same age as I was when I was deep sea fishing. For some reason John thinks it important for us to hear that the five loaves and two fish are provided by a young boy instead of mysteriously appearing from the crowd. Either way, the offering is not enough to feed the crowd and, either way, Jesus is the miracle worker but the young boy might be an important little detail.
We are not told how it is discovered that the boy has the loaves and fish. Maybe he had the food hidden away in his knapsack and was headed off to eat it by himself and was tackled to the ground by the disciples and dragged to Jesus to be punished for being stingy. But more probably the little boy heard Jesus ask how they were going to feed everyone and innocently said, “Hey, I’ve got some food!”. Children are more innocent, more trusting, more ready for an adventure, more ready to say yes than no, and almost always a lot more generous than their adult counterparts.
The image of the young boy offering the loaves and fish is as stark a contrast as that of me and the sea sick people on the fishing boat. The disciples are frightened and can’t figure out how this is going to end well. The boy is trusting and open. He’s not really focused on the danger. While he is looking at Jesus and giving him all he’s got, the disciples are focused on the crowd and anxiously imagining the worst.
Jesus takes the loaves and fish, he gives thanks, he breaks the bread, and distributes the food to the crowd. All eat and are satisfied. And I imagine that by the end of the event, the disciples are just a little more like that young boy than they were when the day started, less anxious and queasy, more open and willing to say yes.
Three of the gospels – Matthew, Mark, and John – then tell the story of Jesus walking on the water. I think John’s inclusion of the young boy not only helps us see the meaning of the feeding of the five thousand but also that of Jesus walking on the water. There is Jesus, rather like a little kid, out on the water, maybe skipping and playing in the chop, while the disciples have their heads between their knees, queasy and anxious about how the worst case scenario might play out.
Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water has Peter giving it a try himself. Peter pops out of the boat on impulse, not counting the staggering odds, and he’s okay for a few steps. But then he begins to look more at the danger than Jesus and he sinks.
Maybe we’re being invited to be more trusting this morning, a little more innocent and playful. Maybe we’re being invited to say yes when invitations are given to us. Maybe we’re being invited to let go of our provisions and give them over to Jesus for him to multiply. And certainly we’re being reminded that, with Jesus as our focus, there is always enough. Even if we’re anxious and queasy, the grace of God is there to give us all we need.