Have you ever tried to plan a party when only half the people you invited actually responded to your invitation? I never know how many hor d’ouevres to make, how much wine and soda to buy, whether or not to borrow chairs from the neighbors. I drive myself crazy worrying about whether I’ll have enough of everything to make my guests feel welcomed.
The poor disciples-in today’s Gospel reading, they are in a situation far more stressful than a cocktail party. They have thousands of hungry people on an isolated hillside and Jesus is asking the disciples to feed the crowd. The disciples know they do not have enough food. They are not just a mini-quiche or glass of wine short, they have absolutely no food with them. They could not even begin feeding the first row of the crowd. Their fear that they do not have enough is a perfectly rational fear based on the evidence in front of them.
The apostle Andrew notes that the only food anyone has is five loaves of bread and a couple of fish that a child happens to have with him. Somehow they persuade the child to give up his lunch and we all know what happens next. When Jesus breaks that bread and tears those fish, somehow that not-enough food transforms into an abundant feast. Instead of not being enough, the food just keeps coming and coming and coming.
Jesus takes the reality of a scarce situation and transforms it utterly. Where there was want, there are now baskets of leftovers. Where there was doubt, there is now wonder.
The crowd has gotten what they wanted. Those who were sick were healed right before the scene in today’s gospel. Now, those who were hungry are fed. The crowd had needs and the crowd’s needs were met. But these signs were not quite enough for the crowd-or the disciples-to “get” who Jesus was. Instead of worshiping Jesus as Lord, the crowd’s reaction is to chase after Jesus and try to make him king.
Jesus is not an earthly King. Jesus is not a magician. Jesus is not Oprah in front a screaming crowd, giving away prizes.
The abundance Jesus offers is real, but the abundance Jesus offers is not the same thing as wish-fulfillment.
Jesus offers us abundance of life, not just abundance of stuff. The crowd wanted more of Jesus, but not for the right reasons. The crowd wanted more magic, more food. The crowd wanted a world where Jesus was their King and his magic powers would give them everything they wanted.
Our passage today moves on to the story of Jesus walking on water and I don’t think the juxtaposition is accidental. Jesus walking on the water is not about giving the disciples something they want. Instead, Jesus shows them, in a new way, what it means that he is the Son of God. Jesus wants to show them that his divinity is not about meeting their material or bodily needs, but is something beyond that, something even more wonderful than that.
Americans are living at a strange crossroads of abundance and scarcity. Even though we live in the richest part of the world, we are feeling afraid about the economy. We are grieving the loss of jobs and have a sinking feeling whenever we check the status of our retirement accounts.
At times, we, like the disciples, are convinced there is not enough. There are not enough jobs available. There is not enough money in the bank account. There is not enough hopeful news to sustain us.
I know for me, from about September to April last year my prayers went something like this, “Please help me find a job in New Jersey. Please help me find a job in New Jersey. Puhleeeeze help me find a job in New Jersey.” My anxiety drove my prayers to sound very much like the cries of the crowd in today’s Gospel reading. “Help me, feed me, fix me!”
There is nothing wrong in sharing our deepest fears and desires with Jesus. Jesus invites our lamentations. He hears our prayers. He comforts us. He provides for us. But there is more to Jesus than his role in responding to our needs.
Jesus, in his earthly ministry, always directed attention towards his Father, the Creator God. Jesus redirects his followers from focusing on themselves and their own needs, to focusing on God. When Jesus walked on the water towards his disciples, they could not help but be awed by the power of God to defy the laws of nature. The act of walking on the water toward the disciples drew them out of themselves and helped them to worship Jesus as God, rather than Jesus as wish-granter. Jesus showed them that the abundance of God is not just what God gives us, but is inherent in the very nature of God. God is beyond everything we could want and everything we see. God’s power stretches beyond our imagination and God’s love is deeper than we can desire.
Jesus walks toward us, too, and invites us to look up and out and to really see him for who he is. Jesus offers us a life of true abundance–not of material possessions–but of relationship with our Creator.
There is something in that act of looking up, looking out towards God that helps us put our own anxious feelings in perspective. When we remember the abundance of God’s love for us and for humanity throughout the millennia, we can re-evaluate our circumstances and see God all around us.
As Christians, our lives will not always be easy, but they can always be filled with joy and deep meaning. Today at the [10:00 or this] service, we will welcome several children into the Christian family through baptism. We know that throughout their lives, when they bring the broken, inadequate, not-enough pieces of their lives to God in prayer, somehow God will transform them into overflowing baskets of blessing. God does this for us, too. And when we realize we have enough-in fact, we have more than enough-we can start giving back to our families, communities and churches.
Thanks be to God.