PROPER 12, B
2 Kings 4:42-44
When I was in my late teens or early twenties, I asked my Grandmother to show me how to make bread. She didn’t use recipes, so I had to follow her around and estimate how much of what she used. She worked by feel, and look, and smell. She had me put my hands in the dough and feel it early in the process and also when it had been kneaded enough.
But it wasn’t until I worked at bread baking, maybe thirty years later, that I began to understand what a primal task it is. I remember kneading bread one day and thinking about how women all through the eons have been doing this same task, either daily or weekly, all their lives, as my grandmother did, but not my mother. Whether it’s cardamom bread, pita bread, corn bread, tortilla, bannock, fry bread, or whatever. Making bread is right up there with nursing a baby or rocking a baby. No matter how we go about it, we’ve been doing it since we became human or longer.
The Christians made bread the central element of their most important celebration, Communion. Why? It’s necessary to life, like air and water. It symbolizes, or stands for, all the food we need for healthy life, not just grains, but fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy.
Another primal event is eating together. Have you ever sat at a holiday table and thought, by the flickering candle light, about how people gathered just like this in caves, or in desert tents, or in castles, or in ghettos, or at Country Clubs, or in walk-up tenements, or even out in the open. Food is meant to be shared and we’ve been doing it forever.
Now consider the numerous people whom Jesus fed in today’s lesson. They were mostly of the farmer/peasant class, people who had once owned their own land and had enough to care for their families. By Jesus’s time they had mostly become sharecroppers – farming land for one of three wealthy families, who told them what to raise – invariably cash crops that would be sold to Rome. Now these families had to buy their food from their share of the money. In a bad year their families went hungry.
Jesus takes 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, blesses them, and feeds everyone. What are we to make of such a story? Too often we focus on the miracle rather than on the impact it had on them, or on us.
We have here a tale of astonishing abundance – not that any of it was fancy or rich or special—just bread and fish, but there was enough for everyone. The fish would have been a significant piece of the picture when this happened because the commercialization of farming that converted family farmers to share croppers was then also occurring to the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.
Sorry, but I can’t talk about Jesus feeding the 5000 without talking about Ruby’s Pantry feeding the 500 last week in International Falls.
I’m sure you’ve heard that there is still enough food grown in the world to feed everyone. The abundance of God’s creation is astonishing and even now we have not ruined it so much that we can’t feed everyone. Yet people starve in many parts of the world, including the U.S. In our country 40% of the food grown is thrown away, dumped in landfills to rot. The problem is in the distribution pipeline.
Growers make contracts with sellers who set certain standards. Any food that does not meet those standards is thrown out: apples that are not red enough or large enough; produce with blemish marks on the skin (which, by the way, we don’t eat!); on and on.
On a PBS special recently I saw a dump truck full of perfectly good, wholesome bananas, ready to go to the dump (I know some of you have heard this, but the sight still haunts me). They were being thrown out because the curve of the fruit did not meet the sellers’ criteria. Not only are we wasting good food, but we’re wasting the water and the energy it took to grow it! Meanwhile more and more families are suffering real shortages of healthy food.
Ruby’s Pantry is attempting to deliver such food to whoever wants it. Yes, it’s especially meant for people in need, but there’s so much of it that it is available to anyone who eats. Evidently this is hard to convey to people who still see it as part of the welfare system. If people who don’t need assistance don’t also participate, the food still goes to waste. The idea is to use it for food, not for landfill.
Ruby’s get the food free, warehouses it, and distributes it. Of the $20 people pay for a share of the food, $18 goes to Ruby’s to pay their expenses. The other $2 stays in the community to be used for benevolence – i.e. to help people in need. They count on volunteers to do most of the work, both here and in their operations.
It’s important that this service be used by all segments of society! We’re all in this together and here’s a place where everyone can help by volunteering and everyone can get a share of food. This makes it a community event, where people who need help with food, but won’t use the food shelf or other government “handouts” can go. It also means that people using Ruby’s will have extra dollars now to spend on meat and produce. The local grocers support this program!
Ruby’s Pantry does not receive any government money; it’s not part of the welfare system. It’s a Christian based 501C3 non-profit. It’s goal is to use food that would otherwise be wasted and to create community along the way.
Isn’t this what Jesus did? In one version of the story, the disciples wanted to send the crowd away, everyone on their own, to find food, but Jesus said, “You feed them.”
Like Elisha’s servant, the disciples moan about how much it would cost to provide food for everyone.
As we so often do, the disciples focus on the issue of scarcity, while Jesus focuses on abundance. Whatever we have is enough in God’s kingdom, something to keep in mind when we start to make excuses. Jesus goes on to tell the crowd to sit down or has the disciples do it. Here, he says, take what we have that I have blessed, that God has blessed, and pass it out.
Isn’t this the classic picnic, or even church potluck! There isn’t any potato salad, nor jello, nor brownies, just bread and fish, but there’s enough of both to meet the needs of everyone. And in the midst of the passing out and the wondering about how it could possibly be enough, and all the conversation going on, people actually talked to one another! Here is a place where tax collector and Pharisee meet, where rich and poor are in the same boat, hungry and without food.
In other words, everyone received enough, and a good time was had by all! This is an image of the abundant life God wants for all of us. And maybe, with a bit of lounging in the grass and enough to eat, they might have wondered why society isn’t more like this or how it might become more so. They were ready to listen to Jesus. Are we? AMEN