LEFTOVERS // Sara Wolbrecht // August 9, 2015 // Mark 6:30-44
In the gospels, we see Jesus perform 37 miracles. That doesn’t mean that Jesus only did 37 miracles, but they are the only ones named specifically and uniquely. A few of them are documented on only one gospel. Many more are told in two gospels, many in three, but there is only one miracle that is in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – all four of the biographies of Jesus. Only one miracle is in all of them.
That miracle is the Feeding of the 5000. Each of the gospels have a slightly different perspective on it, varying details – which interestingly, according to historical experts, the variations make it more likely that it actually happened. In Mark’s version of this miracle, five loaves and two fish become enough to feed 5000 men, and though they are not named there were likely at least another 5000 women and children – a minimum of 10,000 people fed from five loaves, two fish. Miraculous. Even today we find this quite incredible, but the vivid detail, the different sources that speak of it, and the wider setting of all that we know about Jesus, make it easier to suppose he did something like this. If it had been made up, anyone in that generation could have spoken up and said it didn’t happen – but people said it DID happen, which is why we find it in all four gospels. But what did it mean? And what does it mean for us today? Let’s take a look at Mark 6:30-44.
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.
33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
At the center of the Christian story there is a symbol that we all know, THE Christian symbol – what is it? Jesus on the cross is the centerpiece of the Christian story and life. Everything else flows out of that history-changing moment when death appeared to be the final word, oh but it was not.
So I want to suggest today that there is another symbol that echoes of the cross that actually also sits at the center of the Jesus life and story, too. Like a body on the cross, central for us is also is a loaf of bread on a table.
The Feeding of the 5000, again the only miracle of Jesus that is named in all four gospels – I think it is included in all the gospels because of the bread. And because bread says so much about God and the life of Jesus and who we are. It is so foundational, that it needs to be in all four gospels. There is so much good stuff in this passage of scripture, too much for us to cover today, but what I do want to start with is looking at this text through the lens of bread. To talk about and recognize the significance of bread for God’s people. That it is central to who we are.
To warm us up, let’s take a minute to connect with two or three others around you, introduce yourself, and together, can you think of, brainstorm, a few other places in the Bible where we read about bread? Exodus/Passover, Moses (manna from heaven), Elijah, the woman and son who make bread for Paul, Jesus as the Bread of Life, The Last Supper.
Bread pops up in significant ways throughout the Bible, throughout the story of God. And I want this in our consciousness as we look at a few key details in this text that echo of those other bread moments. And then, as we always do, we’ll see how these ancient things from the Bible actually have a lot to say about our lives here and the kinds of things God is still doing in our world. You ready?
First, the Jewish audience who was there that day, and also those who heard the telling of it later, would be pulled back to their ancient past, their roots, their identity by this detail: The Green Grass.
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. Mark 6:39
The grass is green. If you have been to Galilee, you will know that this detail of green grass means that this happened in the springtime. Grass grows quickly in the spring, but once the rains stop in May it gets scorched with the fierce sun – it’s a hot, arid climate. Then for the remainder of the year, the grass it looks much like our lawn outside here, brown and scratchy, until the spring rains again. This then, because it is spring, is taking place at Passover time. Because Passover was in the spring.
And Passover (kind of a big deal if you’re Jewish) was a part of the Exodus, which was Israel’s defining moment as God chose Israel as His people, rescuing them from slavery in Egypt as Moses led them to the Promised Land. All of this is in the book of Exodus. It gave Israel a powerful memory about what made them as a people (and the annual Passover festival in the spring had them coming back to this year after year), and also a particular shape and content to their faith in God as not only their creator, but also their redeemer. The one who saves. And as they came into new eras of bondage and challenge, particularly their exile to Babylon, they spoke of essentially a new Exodus. A new way in which God would save them.
The Passover is celebrated with what? Is it a parade, a concert, a triathlon? It’s a meal. Everyone would sit at the table and through the food and wine and prayers – they retell the story of God’s rescue from Egypt. At its heart: Passover is about bread, on a table.
Yes, and wine, and other herbs and symbols and prayers that are spoken. But it is unleavened bread – bread, that speaks of and fills them with an overwhelming sense of God’s faithfulness. Reminding them of who they are, and who they continue to become – and renewing their trust that God would still be with them. Passover is about bread on the table that speaks of all this, the God who saves.
So then for us to witness Mark 6 – where Jesus takes 5 loaves of bread that become enough bread to feed everyone on the green grass at Passover time. Hmm! That meaning is pulled forward into this moment with Jesus and 10,000 of his closest friends. Do you see that there is much going on in this one little detail about green grass? So cool. To ask this question of what does the Feeding of the 5000 mean? Well, it has something to do with the Passover.
Let’s look further. Second, we notice what Jesus does with the fives loaves and two fish: Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people (Mark 6:41).
What do we notice about this particular detail? Does it sound familiar? Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, blessed it, broke it, and gave it. Jesus does this with a nod to the not too distant future when he will gather at another table, on the night he is betrayed by one of his closest friends, he’ll take another loaf of bread – that, too, will be a Passover meal, but it will be one unlike any his disciples have experienced before. At that meal, Jesus will change the traditional Passover prayers, and he’ll take bread and take the cup and name them as body broken and life poured out for all the world. He will name them as himself.
Mark knew the way in which the words he uses here to describe what Jesus did with the bread – took it, gave thanks, broke it, gave it – fit so neatly into the pattern the early church came to use – a pattern they learned from Jesus himself. A pattern of coming back to a loaf of bread on a table. What does the Feeding of the 5000 mean? Well, it has something to do with the Last Supper. And of all the Holy Suppers, Communion, Eucharists the church has shared throughout the centuries. That meaning is pulled back into this moment with Jesus and 10,000 of his closest friends. The last Supper is present in this moment, just like the Passover.
And so Mark has given us in the details, a nod to the great faithfulness of God in the past for Israel and a nod to the future of the great work of Jesus. God using bread in powerful, meaningful ways in both.
Hang on to that because I have a question for you – do you ever worry about having enough? That’s a pretty broad, yet also direct, honest question. Do you stress about having enough money to pay the bills now or down the road? Enough of what it takes to get a job? Do you stay up at night wondering if you’ll have enough time to get it all done? Or the right stuff to find the right partner you’re looking for? Or maybe it doesn’t keep you up, but it’s always there as a low-grade source of anxiety or sadness. if Or the deeper question: do you ever wonder if you are enough?
The thing about bread is that I think God uses bread here and throughout the Bible, because bread is something that meets us in the most basic way – we need food, right? We need bread. We get hungry! We even get hangry?
When you are hungry and it makes you angry. Even though we are not people who really have to worry about the day to day struggle to have enough food, we know hunger. And we have many, many hungers that rise up in us – unrelated to food, yet just as pressing and emotional and all-consuming. Even Jesus speaks of thirsting for Living Water, for hungering for the Bread of Life. Hungering for justice. Jesus knew that there are deep, persistent hungers in us for enough – enough love, resources, food – enough of so many things.
That’s part of why God uses bread in all of these recurring, powerful moments, defining moments in the Bible. God uses bread because bread is the most basic need we have – for food, for sustenance, for life. He meets us with bread. And God packs in all these beautiful layers from the story of Israel and Jesus and God’s people.
What does the Feeding of the 5000 mean? It means a lot. For us today, I suggest that we let God speak a word to each of us into those places where we feel the hungriest. The places where we feel lacking. The deep hidden stuff – where we worry about not having enough, about not being enough. And God says – oh, but my beloved, there is so much bread. Bread for you. Bread enough that you, too, can be satisfied – that’s what the text says – they all ate and were satisfied. That means 10,000 bellies that are full up, that means, Thanksgiving dinner full, where you have got to do the stealth unbutton of the top button on your jeans. God says - And not only will you be satisfied, but there are baskets and baskets-full of leftovers.
The meaning of the Feeding of the 5000 is that intimate and authentic and present with you and me – it meets us there. Yet the Feeding of the 5000 is also God making a gigantic, bold, statement – it wasn’t just God showing off, performing magic and saying – hey, see what I can do? Check out all this bread! It’s much bigger than that. This is God, through Jesus’ ministry, demonstrating what the Kingdom of God is like, and demonstrating that a whole new way of being is breaking into the world. New creation. Yes, a new Passover was coming – with a new and final Passover lamb. Yes, there was a body that would be blessed and broken and given on a cross for all the world and all time. And yes, the order of this new creation is not scarcity but abundance. Overflowing abundance. Baskets full of abundance. And God’s new creation meets us in our not-enoughness, our hungers and says – oh, you will be satisfied and I’ll send you home with all the leftovers – so not only is there enough for today, but we crack open that basket tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
It’s so fun to look back at the arch of what happens in the bible, and especially in Jesus’ life, and so often I look closely at what Jesus did and think, “Dang! He just knew what he was doing! That stinker!” Like the Last Supper. Jesus knew that we’d need to be able to grab hold of something tangible and that we’d have to do it again and again, to keep coming back to bread on a table to remember that our God is a God of abundance and leftovers. And so that is what we do.
We come to this table, for so many reasons. We believe that Holy Communion is a sacrament – where God actually does something in the bread and wine. Various kinds of Christians have varying doctrinal statements on what does or does not happen in Communion. Roman Catholics believe the bread and wine actually become flesh and blood – the churchy word for that is transubstantiation – that the substance is transformed. Other traditions believe that it is a symbolic act we do, a metaphor or sorts, reenacting what Jesus did, yet with great meaning.
Martin Luther said that in Communion we believe that Christ is present in, with, and under the bread and wine. Which to me means that in every possible way, there is the presence of Jesus injected into these ordinary things. And that in taking them into ourselves we once again receive the life of God in us. And we believe it’s a sacrament, holy, mysterious, yet something happens in this bread on a table that connects us to the life of God.
And we always walk away from this table with baskets full. The bread of Communion always spills over into other moments of our lives. We find that bread of Jesus showing up – as we’re at home, at work, talking with a friend – dang it, Jesus, is that your bread again? And yes, we especially find it spilling over onto the other tables we sit down at.
There is a Jewish saying: Every table is an altar. That every table with bread on it and people around it is sacred, is one of those thin places where the everyday ordinary stuff of our lives touches, is recognizable as sacred, set apart. We say it at Salt House over and over – good and sacred things happen when we eat together with others. It makes a space for those baskets of bread, of God’s abundance to be poured out into the conversation we share with those folks across the table. That’s why we eat here, dinner, the first and third Sundays – because every table is an altar. Let’s make that table.
You may not know, but we also as a community, invite one another into a challenge. If you have a bulletin, could you open it up? We call it the Three Meal Challenge. It is a challenge, if you’re willing to take it, to take time at a table three times during your week (at a minimum). To be intentional to grab lunch, dinner, a beer, a coffee with others. To live out outside of these walls this sacredness of the table in our everyday lives. And I have found – you need to be proactive and schedule it if you really want to see it happen. And if you live with others, you can only count them ONCE in your three (or not at all).
I wonder if you’d be willing to take on or re-up for the three meal challenge. How about doing it this week? And then maybe keep doing it. Creating that sacred space with bread and a table. Creating the echo of the Passover, and the Feeding of the 5000, and the Last Supper, and letting God’s leftovers spill out into that time with others. A little pro tip: You can ask other people from Salt House to eat with you.
Let me pray for us…