There were so many of them. So many following, so many wanting to hear one more word, so many wanting to see one more miracle.
There were so many of them. 5000 or so, in fact. And they’d become incredibly curious about this man who’d been curing the sick. They wanted to see him do it again, not sure what it meant, but knowing that it meant something. And maybe seeing it again would help it all make more sense. Maybe this time it’d be their own father, or mother, or brother or sister or child, who’d be healed.
The crowd had been following him for so long that it was close to meal time. He knew that, and he knew that they’d need something to eat. He asked his disciples, “What are we going to do about this? Where are we going to buy bread for all these people?”
Notice that sending them away wasn’t an option.
Notice that simply telling them, “Tough luck, you should’ve brought something with you” wasn’t an option.
Notice that telling them, “Go find a job to earn some food” wasn’t an option.
“Where are WE going to buy bread for all these people?”
Of course, in the Gospel of John Jesus already knows the answer to his own question. He always does. He just wanted to see what his disciples would say. One says, “We’d need half a year’s pay to buy food for all these people!” Another says, “Well, this kid has a couple loaves of bread and a few fish. But it ain’t much.” That’s the best the disciples can offer.
Jesus says, “Make everyone sit down.”
And he took the bread, and gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them. Maybe he said, “take and eat.” But if he did, he could just keep saying it: “Take and eat, take and eat, take and eat,” over and over and over again until everyone had to loosen their belts a little. This was truly a miracle!
As I read this story, I’m reminded of something that one of my seminary professors said more than once: “You’re loved not because you’re loveable, but because of the One who loves you.”
See, most cultures, including ours, tie in who is deemed loveable with food. We use food to welcome people a lot, to show our love. We set out snacks during an afternoon visit, we prepare special meals for guests, we prepare hors d’oeuvres for parties. Because we want to fully welcome others, and food is a big way to do that. Implicitly we declare, “I do this because to me, you are loveable. You are worthy of love, so I prepared this for you.”
But Jesus has a different way of doing things; we should know this pretty well by now.
I wonder about the makeup of this crowd – Who exactly was Jesus serving? What kinds of people made up the 5000 that afternoon? How many, for instance, were single, or married, or divorced? How many had children with them, or were estranged from their own parents? How many were foreigners looking to make a new life in a new place, and looking to be accepted? How many were getting sidelong glances by others in the crowd because they were of a different ethnicity, or living with an incurable illness, or living a frowned-upon lifestyle? How many were pre-approved to receive the bread because they’d recited the proper statement of faith beforehand?
We’re not told any of those things, of course, mostly because Jesus didn’t seem to care too much about it. He simply broke the bread and passed it out: “Take and eat.” He shows that he’s not doing this because he’s deemed the crowd loveable, but because of the One who loved them. He provides, because God provides. He loves, because God loves.
And when some from this same crowd follow him a few days later, they say, “Do it again. Provide food for us. Show us another sign like when Moses provided manna for the Israelites.” And Jesus responds, “It’s not just about food, you know.”
The bread isn’t the point – the manna, the bread from heaven back in the day, wasn’t the point then and it’s not the point now. The point is where it comes from . The point is who provides it and why. God provided that manna in the wilderness, and God is showing you now where truly life-giving bread comes from. This bread of life will always be there for you – you’ll never be hungry again. And it’s for everyone to enjoy - because of the One who loves you.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of a very unique Lutheran church in Denver, tells of getting a phone call at 11 in the morning one Sunday. A church member, Rachel, was calling from her hometown church, sobbing. When she was finally able to compose herself, she said, "I'm at my parent's church....they are doing communion.....and I'm not allowed to take it." She wasn’t used to being barred from the table, after being part of a different church community for so long that wouldn’t think of doing such a thing.
Nadia asked if it was okay for her to share this story with a few other church members, and she agreed. When Nadia shared this with others, one immediately responded, "Well then we'll have to take her communion at the airport when she gets home.” It was a no-brainer.
So when Rachel got off the escalator she saw a sign reading "Rachel" on one side and "Child of God" on the other. Nadia, trying to be sly about the whole thing, asked if Rachel wouldn't mind if they just popped upstairs because someone had asked her about the chapel and she wanted to make sure she knew where it was.
So at 10 pm on a Wednesday night, 8 people were waiting in the chapel at Denver International Airport to share communion with one of their own, to show that she was welcome at the table. To show that she wasn’t welcome because she was loveable, but because of the One who loves her.
We set out this bread that the Bread of Life may be experienced through sharing it. We set it out so that all may be welcomed and be transformed through that welcome. We offer it because Christ offered and offers it, that all may be changed through a realization of God’s love and presence, whether it happens here this morning, or at an airport at 10 at night, on a Friday evening with friends or a Tuesday afternoon with coworkers.
Making yourself worthy of welcome wasn’t how Jesus did it, and it’s not how this table is meant to work. Come because of the One who loves you. You don’t have to make yourself loveable first. The Bread of Life is for all, whenever and wherever.
Take and eat.
(HT to Sarcastic Lutheran for the story)