Available and Ample

Reading: John 6.1-15

For many centuries human beings have imagined the benefits and freedom of being able to fly like a bird. Perhaps we wistfully retain this dream when we give the distance of a destination "as the crow flies". Regrettably, by any of our means of land transport, it will be much further. And our air transport will be much closer, though not exactly, "as the crow flies". Of course, fictional characters like Superman are given flight. So too are some of the characters in Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. But in the non-imaginary world, it is not so.

According to Greek mythology, Daedalus, "the cunning craftsman", was said to have built the famous labyrinth in Crete in which he was imprisoned by King Minos. To escape from the maze, he made wings for himself and for his son Icarus out of feathers and wax. Icarus flew too high and fell to his death in the sea after the sun had melted the wax on his wings. Daedalus was more successful. He flew safely over the Aegean Sea and eventually reached Sicily. (Personally, I suspect the power-weight ratio was wrong and that neither of them could go up at all before going down!)

Now much later - following careful study of physics, mathematics and aerodynamics - we have both gliders and powered planes which bear little resemblance to the fabled waxy feathers of Daedalus and Icarus. The dream has become a reality.

At some time or another, we have all heard the bold claim, "The difficult we do immediately; the impossible may take a little longer." Our growing knowledge base of science and technology is allowing us to achieve more and more of what previously we were sure we "would never do".

Feeding the 5000

But being able to do more ourselves, we have become an age sceptical of miracles. Having become the late lords of the universe, we have convinced ourselves that any unexplained happening must be what we ourselves may well do one day - i.e. it has a perfectly natural explanation. Or it didn't really happen at all - i.e. it is just a bit of folk-lore from the superstitious pre-scientific age. And with our scepticism we console ourselves that the miracle stories are still important to us because they have "meaning", even if they aren't "history"!

And that is just what some people have tried to do with the feeding of the five thousand - a miracle recorded, incidentally, in all four gospels (Mt. 14.13-21; Mk 6.30-44; Lk. 9.10-17; and Jn 6.1-15).This is, some have insisted, merely a miracle of sharing. The boy shared his lunch with Jesus, and other people were then no longer embarrassed about bring out their lunches. Such an explanation just doesn't fit the record.

I recently came across a story about a young preacher who preached the Scriptures but was having trouble with one critical parishioner. This fellow's favourite expression was "Great Day."

One Sunday morning the young preacher announced, "I'm preaching on the text, 'And Jesus fed five men with five thousand loaves of bread and two thousand fishes'." The critical church member stood up and said, "Great day, that's no miracle! I could do that!"

The young pastor was so shattered that he couldn't even preach the sermon. He gathered himself together next Sunday, and announced correctly, "And Jesus fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes." He then looked right down at his outspoken member and asked, "And I guess you could do that too?" The man replied, "I sure could, preacher!" The young pastor asked, "And just how would you do it?" The man answered, "That's easy! I'd use what was left over from last Sunday!"

Jesus had healed an invalid at the Pool of Bethzatha (or Bethesda) in Jerusalem (Jn 5.1-15). Because this took place on the Sabbath, the Jews were stirred in their resolve to eliminate him. This led Jesus to spell out their unwillingness to hear and heed the clear witness of God to the Son - "You study the Scriptures, because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very Scriptures speak about me! Yet you are not willing to come to me in order to have life" (5.39).

Jesus then moved away from Jerusalem into Galilee. While the Jewish leaders were hostile to him, many people were filled with curiosity because of his miracles of healing. Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake. They went up a hill and sat down together. It was Passover time, so most other people should have been moving toward Jerusalem. Instead, they saw a large crowd climbing up to be with them.

Jesus asks Philip, "Where can we buy enough food to feed all these people?" (v. 5b) Philip was from Bethsaida (1.44), the closest town, so he should be familiar with the local resources. But, humanly speaking, it is impossible to provide food from the neighbouring villages for such a large crowd late in the day - "For everyone to have even a little, it would take more than two hundred silver coins to buy enough bread" (v. 7). (The "silver coin" was a "denarius" - a day's wage for a rural worker. Two hundred denarii would be some eight months' wages. Even if there was enough bread available, the disciples didn't have anywhere near that amount of money.)

Now Andrew, Peter's brother comes up. He has been checking out the crowd. "There is a boy here who has five loaves of barley bread and two fish. But they will certainly not be enough for all these people" (v. 9).

We don't know what the boy had in mind offering his lunch to Jesus, but he seems to be expressing more faith than either of these two disciples!

"Jesus took the bread, gave thanks to God, and distributed it to the people who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, and they all had as much as they wanted" (v. 11). Jesus takes the meal that is made available to him - a boy's lunch - and distributes an ample supply - with twelve basketsful of the fragments left over.

Available and Ample

At the beginning, we noted that our growing knowledge base of science and technology is allowing us to achieve more and more of what previously we were sure we "would never do". Yet in so many ways we are faced with intractable problems that go well beyond our human resources.

As a Church we have faced the whole issue of human sexuality - that part of our humanity which shows so clearly the brokenness caused by the Fall. It is a brokenness seen in the heterosexual community as well as in those with homosexual inclinations and/or practice. God offers forgiveness for our sinful actions, healing for the hurt and damage in our psyche and transformation of life and lifestyle. In other words, there is good news. But some in our Church structure want us to do no more than offer the "cheap love" of "affirmation", not salvation.

I use this simply as an illustration from the current life of our denomination. There are many other situations with which none of us could ever agree, yet which "have us beaten". Not all the human resources and skills of church or society come anywhere near to solving them.

Jesus was not asking his disciples whether they had enough food, but whether what they had was fully available to him. What was available to him proved to be ample.

And here we are - a congregation of the Lord's people at Buderim, part of the rapidly growing Sunshine Coast. We need to reach out and minister to this increasing population. We need to develop a strong and effective youth work. We need to enlarge our facilities if we are truly committed to minister here in Christ's name. Lord, what we have "will certainly not be enough for all these people"!

But the Lord is looking, not at whether we are adequate, but whether we are available. If we are available to him, what we have will become an ample supply for his ministry in this area.

Will you join with me in a fresh commitment to personal spiritual development through worship, prayer and Bible study and to the use of our gifts - spiritual and material - whenever and however he enables us? To God be all the glory!

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 7 March 1999
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.

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