Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. John 6:11-13 NRSV
During five summer Sundays in July and August, if you worship in a church using the Revised Common Lectionary, you get to hear a lot about food (bread in particular, but also fish—see above) in John’s version of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus’ teaching based on it in John 6.
Here Jesus uses food (bread) to show us simply what is unique about the life God gives us and intends for all people.
My dear mother who as far as I know did not have any direct Scandinavian heritage learned to love lutefisk living in a Norwegian family (my father’s side) and a community that had many lutefisk suppers each fall. On her 96th birthday celebration in June just weeks before she left us, lutefisk was the main dish (for her at least)!
One time a few years earlier our family was having a post-Christmas gathering for several days in a winter resort setting. Lutefisk was on the menu. Mom asked me if the children (her great-grandchildren) liked it. I said I didn’t know because some of them had never tasted it. Her advice was to let each one taste just a little piece to see if they liked it. “But be careful though,” she said. “Don’t give them too much in case they don’t like it. You don’t want to waste it, you know!”
I grew up with the ethic of the “clean plate club” (still works to this day)! Whether it was the prized lutefisk or just peas and potatoes, we learned to eat it all!
Thriftiness and using every scrap were the virtues we learned well.
Not so with Jesus! Yes, he used a little (the few loaves and fishes) to feed thousands, but when it was over, they ended up with much more than what they had in the beginning!
It wasn’t by accident this happened—and the crowd was not particularly wasteful. As I understand the central message of Jesus’ teaching here—God’s abundance and having more when you share what you have than when you hold on to it—is the life God intends for you and me and all people. You and I and everybody else end up with more when we share with one another—whether its love, or forgiveness, or food or anything else in life! That’s the Good News! That’s the best life God has for all of us!
Sharing food with one another around a table or even on a picnic blanket brings to mind for many of us pleasant or even joyful times when we celebrate the life that God gives us to share with each other. It can be ethnic dishes or hamburgers and hot dogs or bread and fish. The way God sustains us is to provide us the ways to produce, make and share food! It is the beginning of and sustaining of this life we live together in this world. And that’s the story of (key to) loving God and our neighbors as we love ourselves!
So, as you ponder this gospel reading and the ones to come for the next four weeks, you might find it helpful to keep this in your thoughts and prayers. How has God blessed you in your life (sustained you) through food? How are you using food (sharing it—even if indirectly, as in making offerings so that others may eat) so that everyone may enjoy this life as you know it and God gives to all of us? What stories to tell do you have that speak of how God brings purpose and joy to your life through sharing (food and other gifts) with as many people as you can?
In this respect, Mom was obviously right, “You don’t want to waste it (the opportunities and occasions to share the joy, love and life God gives), you know!”
Let us pray...
O God who gives us life and sustains us with food and so many other gifts, help us to recognize, celebrate, and share your goodness as we receive it in food and conversation with others. Make us aware of those who are hungry for food and human friendship around us and across the world. Show us ways we can share our food, gifts, and friendship with them, as Jesus showed us. Amen.