Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 2012
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
July 22nd, 2012
Today’s Gospel relates one of the archetypal stories in Christendom: the feeding of the four thousand. It is the second time that Christ fed the people, the first being the mass of “about five thousand men, as well as women and children.” It is the lesser known of the feeding miracles, being related only in Matthew and Mark, whereas the feeding of the five thousand is related in all four gospel accounts.
Yet, the significance of this is not limited to the number of times it is mentioned in Holy Scripture. In fact, the thought occurred to this priest that Christ may have fed several crowds at several different occasions, but for some reason, it was not mentioned in the gospel accounts. It could be. No doubt some more liberal scholars might take this as merely a retelling of the feeding of the five thousand, or as a symbolic sharing that took place among the crowd, but that is not how we view the Word of God. We simply take it for the truth.
The real significance of these events is manifold, even if one doesn’t “merely” dwell on the miraculous nature of the feedings themselves. Of course, not to marvel at the wonderful physical multiplication of the loaves and fishes is to do God a grave disservice. The very fact that Our Lord took the bread and the fish, blessed it, broke it and distributed it to his disciples is wonderful beyond words. The word “miracle doesn’t even do it justice. It had not been done before, and we doubt if it will ever be done again. It was truly a marvelous happening.
Yet, we actually must go beyond the physical marvel into the “how” and “why” beyond the act to begin to truly appreciate the significance of it. Without sounding too pompous, we must enter into the metaphysical realm to see why it is significant to us today.
We believe that the true significance of this act goes beyond Christ’s wonderful compassion shown on the multitude. Of course, on the first level of meaning, this is truly marvelous and blessed to behold. Christ had “compassion” on the crowd, because they had been with him three days with nothing to eat. Unless they had brought something with them, they were in a fasting condition. This shows what great power Christ’s words had, as well as the power of his preaching. The crowd was so spiritually hungry that they neglected their bodily needs in order to hear His words of truth. Can you imagine? No mere earthly preacher has this wisdom or this eloquence. Christ did, however, and captured their attention for three days. Yet, even so, Christ cared about their physical welfare, as well as their spiritual welfare. He was concerned that since they had been fasting for three days, if He sent them away empty, many would faint on their way home. Thus, Christ “begged the question” as his disciples made the doubtful query, “Where can one find bread in the wilderness, and especially enough to feed so many?”
No doubt Our Lord wanted them to ask the question, so that they could be still and behold the works of God. They needed to see Christ at work, because at this point, there were some among them that still doubted whether or not He was the Christ.
Now, we come to the metaphysical part. This is the area which transcends the mere physical and takes us up in to the mind of God, as much as we are able. Note first that Christ asked how many loaves the disciples had on hand... Whether this came from the crowd, or from the disciples themselves, we not know, because Scripture is silent.
The disciples answer, “Seven.” We also learn that there were a few small fish available as well. This number, in and of itself, is an important fact. It is, of course, a mystical number, and one that occurs again and again in Scripture. For example, the word “seven” occurs 54 times in the Books of Revelations alone….
Lest we caught up in numerology, however, let us pursue the truth at hand. Our Lord then set the pattern for the four-fold action of the Holy Eucharist, when he took, blessed, broke, and gave to His disciples. Incidentally, if one doesn’t believe in the ordained ministry, here is a precursor for it. Note that Christ did not give to the multitude directly, but rather he gave to his disciples, who then gave to the people.
As we mentioned earlier, there is a lot of significance in this passage of Holy Writ.
Now, to the crux of the matter….. Please note that Christ did not, shaman-like, create an illusion of abundance. That is, it didn’t just look as if the bread and fishes were multiplied. They actually were increased beyond belief. Also, and just as important, is the fact that Christ didn’t do magic. He did not wave his hand and the fish and bread appeared. As a friend of mine at St. Thomas of Canterbury once remarked, magic is a manipulation of nature, making it (supposedly) do something that is against its own essence. For example, things do not just appear out of nowhere. Something from nothing is not natural. The only time something was created ex nihilo, out of nothing, was the Creation itself. It is this priest’s opinion that God created the atoms, the chemical compounds, and the other building blocks of matter, which he in turn, fashioned into our Earth. In this respect, Science and Religion do not have to be at odds. After all, we know that God is the ultimate Scientist, just as He is the ultimate expression of all that is good.
Instead of something out of nothing, our Lord did something else: He multiplied. He magnified, He amplified. Taking the things already at hand, Jesus multiplied them. Thus, seven loaves became enough to feed thousands. A “few small fish” became a veritable torrent of food to feed the hungry. If you’ve ever the movie, “Jesus of Nazareth”, then you’ll remember that was done very effectively by showing a literal shower of bread loaves falling out of baskets held up by the Disciples. It was very well done, indeed.
What lesson can we at St. Barnabas take from this, both individually and corporately?
Simply this: God takes what we have and grows it. He multiplies anything that is truly given to Him. One simple example is our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”, about which we spoke last Sunday, where we each individually offer every Sabbath day during our worship. This priest knows that he always gains something from each experience of holy worship. After all, how can we not, seeing how we seek to draw near to the Holy One when we approach His Altar with “boldness” , to cite Heb. 10:19. Thus, when we approach God with our gifts, even though they be meager (as in this priest’s case), God takes and multiplies them. Yes, He takes us and sometimes He must first break us, before He can bless and magnify us.
We at St. Barnabas are the loaves and the fishes. We are that worthy material God will use to spread His Glory to the community and to this area all around, as His Will dictates. The fact is, as we continue to give ourselves to Almighty God in faith, and in hope, and in love, God will multiply us.
Therefore, let us not be as the incredulous and unbelieving disciples, who asked, “From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” Rather, let us be like the waiting multitude, which was fasting, yet expectant; hungry, yet hopeful.
God will multiply this church. Believe it. Have faith in it. Pray for it every day. If for some reason, you are not praying specifically for it, this priest bids you start, today, with fervor.
Beloved, we are the loaves and fishes. We are the faithful remnant. As we remain faithful, we will be magnified.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, AMEN