Let Go and Let’s
And now once again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat. So
he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2. 'I feel sorry for all these
people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat.
3. If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way; some have come
a great distance." 4. His disciples replied, "Where could anyone get these
people enough bread to eat in a deserted place?" 5. He asked them, "How many
loaves have you?" And they said to him, "Seven." 6. Then he instructed the crowd
to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks
he broke them and began handing them to his disciples to distribute; and they
distributed them among the crowd. 7. They had a few small fishes as well, and
over these he said a blessing and ordered them to be distributed too. 8. They
ate as much as they wanted, and they collected seven basketfuls of the scraps
left over. 9. Now there had been about four thousand people. He sent them
away 10. and at once, getting into the boat with his disciples, went to the
region of Dalmanutha.
11. The Pharisees came up and started a discussion with him; they demanded of
him a sign from heaven, to put him to the test. 12. And with a profound sigh he
said, "Why does this generation demand a sign? In truth I tell you, no sign
shall be given to this generation." 13. And, leaving them again, he re-embarked
and went away to the other side.
Treats for Four Thousand Kids
In 1981, I served as lay leader of my church, which was involved in school ministry in Haiti. The church wanted to provide treats for school Christmas parties. The schools were located in rural areas where a family’s income was less that $300 per year. So for these children who wore rags and lived in huts, receiving a sucker, Popsicle, pack of gum or a little toy was a once-a-year treat. The church worked to save some money for me to go and collected several suitcases full of treats – enough for about 4,000 children, we reckoned.
I had a free flight over in a small plane. But at the last minute, the pilot took on some extra passengers and I had to leave the suitcases of treats behind. I was upset because my passage had been prearranged. The pilot did, however, allow me to take one suitcase – maybe there were enough treats for a thousand children in there -- but what about the other three thousand children?
The Christmas parties were scheduled morning and afternoon for seven days at fourteen schools, all in different villages. I passed out the treats from that one suitcase, but from the first it was obvious there wouldn’t be enough. I wondered where I could get more. There were no stores where we were “missioning.” After about the fifth school party, I noticed that the suitcase was still quite full of treats. How could that be possible?
At the fourteenth school’s party, the children lined up once again for their treat. I had by this time distributed over 3700 treats and toys from this one suitcase, and there were about 300 children here. The treats finally ran out just a little short of serving all four thousand children, but about that time a box of Popsicles were discovered on one of the mission trucks. They served the remainder. And although there were no remnants to be collected, we witnessed the children playing with their little balls or cars or even with the plastic bags that the treat had come in. There was no fighting over these trinkets even though, for most, it was the only toy he or she had.
Afterward, I realized that I had been a part of a little miracle, one very similar to the miracle of the loaves and fish in the Bible. Four thousand served from one suitcase! Down through the years, with each retelling of the story, our faith is renewed. Do you want to see a miracle? Then go where the miracles are and be a part of one. More on that later.
Bread for a Multitude
Today’s gospel passage describes the second feeding of a multitude; the first time this miracle happened is recorded in Mark 6:35. There is as much symbolism in these acts as there is plain reporting. The people travel into the desert from their homes miles away on foot. A great deal of effort is put forth to be where the Holy Spirit is moving. This is no Edenic setting. The people stay in this discomfort for three days to be near Jesus. That says something about their priorities. Jesus is teaching, preaching and healing them all. It’s like an old fashioned camp meeting only there aren’t any picnic tables or fried chicken. It is probably similar to rural Haiti.
Jesus’ motive behind feeding all these folks is his concern for their welfare on the trip home. Like John Wesley, the world is Jesus’ parish and he cares for his parishioners. He doesn’t take an offering for food – there’s no place to buy. But he gives what he has and asks his own group how much food they have to give. Seven loaves for four thousand people certainly can’t be sufficient unless Jesus is involved. In his hands, seven is always ‘enough.’ Barley bread was staple sustenance of these poor people. Although they certainly tired of eating barley bread, it was cheap, portable and it could prevent starvation if there was enough of it.
The seven loaves in the desert remind us of the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. It was there that Moses the Lawgiver received the Torah and read its words to the exiles. When they were starving, Yahweh, through the prayer of Moses, provided manna for them to eat. Jesus later said that he himself was this manna from heaven. In eating him, one might never be hungry again. The children of Israel tired of eating manna and complained to Moses. They wanted meat.
Jesus had more that coarse loaves – he had meat. Fishing was big business those days as now, except then fresh fish went to the rich folks. The poor ate smoked, salted or pickled sardines. When the children of Israel in the Sinai craved meat, Yahweh gave them quails. Likewise, Jesus adds meat to the diet, making a satisfying meal rather than a mere mouthful or two.
Jesus the New Moses
Jesus is the new Moses. He leads his people, the lost tribes of Israel, out of the world of kings and Pharisees and into the desert. There he teaches them the New Covenant, offering spiritual meat. It’s his intention to guide them all the way to the new Promised Land, which he calls the Kingdom of Heaven. As Moses ruled the children of Israel, Jesus claims the poor and oppressed as his people. And in like fashion, just before the Kingdom is actually entered, Jesus is taken up, just as Moses had been. This is not coincidental. Jesus came to be our Moses and lead us back to the Law and into the Promised Land. We have arrived! Hallelujah!
Notice that Jesus blesses Yahweh for the bread then he actually blessed the fish, just as we do. He breaks these items into pieces with his hands. But it isn’t Jesus who passes out the morsels. He hands the broken pieces over to his disciples for them to distribute. His disciples set the victuals before the people, they receive, then eat until they’re satisfied. He uses the disciples to distribute the food in hopes that the people will bond to them and thus emulate them as righteous fathers. But Jesus also hopes that these disciples will observe first-hand the suffering of others and learn compassion. We need to learn it as well!
Distributing Fifty Thousand
My earthly Father
was there with me in Haiti in 1981. He
gave me a riddle to solve. He said,
“UMCOR has sent me 50,000 bags of rice and beans. How can I distribute all this food to the hungry in Haiti in such
a way as to bring Jesus the greatest glory?
What should I do?” The next day,
he asked me the same question, then he said, “Jesus showed me the best way:
Give all the food to those I know are Christians.”
He Broke Them All
Now when Jesus breaks the barley and fish and hands it over to his disciples, there is far more than enough; seven loaves to start; seven baskets taken up. This remnant of the loaves is symbolic of the remnant of the elect of Israel – those who are faithful to the commandments of Yahweh in the latter times – our times; those who work compassion in the last days – our days. We are among this remnant, blessed and broken and cast out upon the world. When earth’s harvested and the Kingdom of Heaven comes, the remnant will be taken up, this time into the sky. They will no longer be broken in that day, but made whole. We don’t understand how, but we know it’ll be a miracle, and we will want to be a part.
Again, The Arch-enemies Appear
Having shared bread and fish, Jesus sends the people away, and he too leaves for Dalmanutha. Now when he gets there, he encounters his archenemies, the Pharisees. They were a religious group like today’s Gideons – laymen who banded together to direct the people back to conservative teachings and values. But unlike the Gideons, the Pharisees went awry and became evil. Jesus called them ‘children of the devil.’ And what do the devil’s children want from Jesus? They think they deserve a sign from heaven. They want him to command fire like Elijah or strike a water rock like Moses. But an evil generation will only get a warning to repent. Had they suffered the desert with the crowd, even these evil ones would have seen the glorious sign of the loaves and fish.
Pharisees were invited to the camp meeting. Whosoever will may come! But unclean religious spirits don’t want to be where the Spirit of Yahweh is moving. This is evident in what Jesus asks them. “Why does this generation seek a sign?” By using the term “generation,” he is talking about a family line. “No sign will be given to this family line,” he says, “for you are of your father the devil.” Remember how these Pharisees later announced that Jesus’ miracles were by the power of Beelzebul? No forgiveness was possible for them.
After this encounter, the disciples assemble back in the boat and sail for Capernaum. But they forgot the bread! (Maybe Judas sold it.) The lack of bread seems to be a major concern for some reason. There was but one roll left, and this roll had been intentionally held back and hidden by one of the disciples. This is not a coarse barley loaf; this is a yeast roll – so fat and tender and sweet! The disciple says to his soul, “This is my roll! Nobody will have it but me!” He lies to everyone else: “Alas, I haven’t any bread!”
Jesus knows what he’s hiding; he doesn’t care about it. He says, “Brother, beware of the yeast roll of Herod and the Pharisees.” Yeast is a symbol of sin. He once said, “A little yeast yeasts the whole chalupa.” We might say, “One bad apple spoils the pie.” Sin, like yeast set loose in dough, infiltrates every dab.
What is the yeast of Herod and the Pharisees? There’s an easy answer to that one. The Pharisees were greedy religious leaders; Herod was a a greedy king. The yeast roll consists of the sins of church and state; that is, GREED. Pharisees and Herodians greedily retained the truth and instead dispensed self-serving, lying doctrines; they greedily held back correct translations of Scripture while promoting corrupt imitations; they greedily exacted large financial and moral assessments, keeping back the best pickings for themselves. Church and state – the great bastions of greed for ill-gotten gain.
“But I said I don’t have any bread!” The disciple clutches his little yeast roll as though it was his last. His bread is yeasted with greed, greed that blinds him even to the great miracle of multiplication he has just witnessed. Keeping a grasp on that little biscuit is reason enough for him to lie to the Savior of the world! Yet Jesus doesn’t expose him. He simply reminds them all, “Why are you worried about bread? Are your hearts hardened? Don’t you remember how many baskets we took up? Don’t you think we can do it again if we need? Don’t you understand anything?”
Things Are to be Put Into Perspective
What there was to understand is that the things in the lives of disciples should be put into perspective. What’s really important? Of what true value are the things the we grasp, the very things that keep us from witnessing miracles of transformation? Are they really even worth a lie? Can’t we let go of the yeast roll if Jesus, the miracle-worker, promises to make baskets-full of it available whenever we want it back?
In 1991, a massive nationwide poll was taken based on one question. What are you willing to do for ten million dollars? Two-thirds of Americans agreed to do at least one of the following forever: Abandon your family, abandon G-d, give up your citizenship, leave your spouse, free a murderer, murder a stranger. The results of this poll were published in a book appropriately titled, The Day Americans Told the Truth.
Sir Fred Catherwood rightly observed, “Greed is the logical result of the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can while we can however we can and then hold on to it hard.” This is what Jesus meant when he warned us that:
As it was in Noah's day, so will it be when the Son of man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept them all away. This is what it will be like when the Son of man comes. (Matthew 24: 37-39)
Greed is inbred into our contemporary culture. The results of this poll don’t surprise us when we think about what lengths one will go to keep a grasp of a little biscuit. I dare say that many Americans would do all these things for far, far less than tem million! But just how far would we go, what would we be willing to do or give up, in order to be in that place of miracles with Jesus? Just what would we be willing to ungrasp? Would you let loose of a few hundred dollars to send me to the mission field with treats for desperate children, or better, would you go with me for a week? Would you care enough about the plight of the least of the brethren enough to give up your vacation for them? Letting go of some little something might be the very thing you need to do for Yahweh to move your life into the realm of the miraculous. You’ll have plenty more opportunities to experience the mundane, the grasp the usual. But you need to see that miracle. Why don’t you just let go -- and then -- let’s go!
Jackson Snyder September 26, 2002