Miracles, Mercies, Loaves and Fishes
Our first reading from the book of 2nd Kings jumps right into the deep end of the pool without preamble. Let’s paint a broader picture so that we understand how this text fits with the Gospel reading about the loaves and fishes.
Elisha is the prophet named in the story. Eli-sha and Eli-jah are two different prophets. W see earlier in 2nd Kings that Eli-jah is the one battling the wicked Queen Jezebel and her equally wicked husband King Ahab. And Eli-jah is the one vividly described as taken up by God in the whirlwind and the chariot of fire. As Eli-jah disappears into heaven, Eli-sha is standing on the river bank watching. As Eli-sha looks up at the fiery chariot fading from view, the literal cloak – called a mantle in the Scripture – falls from
Eli-jah’s shoulders. Eli-sha picks up this cloth mantle as a sign that he – Eli-sha – now receives the blessings and the messages from God as did his predecessor. The other prophets, who are gathered around seeing this all happen, accept Eli-sha’s new authority and begin to follow him. Asking a 1000 questions on the walk back home, of course!
Baal-shalishah, a small village named in the text, is mentioned only this one time in Scripture, but the Talmud describes it as an area where the very first crops in Israel matured and were harvested. There the soil, the water, the sunshine were all just right for early growth. Gilgal, the area where Eli-sha lived with his community of prophets, however, was suffering from famine. As an act of worship, a man brought some of the very first grain harvested to Eli-sha as grain and as freshly baked bread loaves.
We are asked to bring our tithes and offerings from the FIRST FRUITS of our work as an act of faith. When our winter supplies are almost gone, when the work of planting is done, when the crops begin to come in, it is hard to give these first fruits away. We are hungry and tired ourselves. Bills are due and we are ready to see our hard work rewarded. Giving God the first of what we harvest reminds us that all comes from God and that God will take care of us with the harvest. If we wait to give God what is left after we have taken care of all our needs, we are serving ourselves and not God.
Elisha receives the gifts and offers the food to the community. The protest of his servant is obvious. That small basket, however faithful and generous, is not nearly enough food for everyone to share! Jesus and the Disciples face the same dilemma. A large crowd surrounds them, it is meal time, and Jesus says, Is the IGA open? We need to buy food for these people.
We have heard this Gospel story so many times – beginning when we were little ones in Sunday School. A small boy offers up his lunch just as it was lovingly packed by his mother. Five barley loaves – each probably the size of a regular hamburger bun. Two fish – probably the size of two fish sticks.
That small lunch was not much for thousands – but it was perfect for that one boy.
This is how I feel sometimes. Looking around, I see so much need. Looking inward, I see so little ability. No matter how hard I work, only a tiny, tiny dent will be made in that need. Yet, I hear Jesus saying: they are ready, June. Give them something to eat.
I can honestly say that I personally have not seen God multiply physical food for a large group – though some church potlucks have seemed miraculous! But I have seen God take one person’s faith, expressed with hope and confidence in God, turn a whole room of people around. I do know that research shows that poor people give away a greater portion of their income than do rich people. I have watched the seed of an idea create an energy that caused great things to happen. I have seen God transform people in all sorts of circumstances to become fierce fighters for justice and mercy that made a difference.
We named ourselves ALL SAINTS Episcopal Church in part because we had our first official service around that Holy Day. But more than that, because the lives of the saints teach us what God can do with a small lunch of loaves and fishes. Saints are not born. God makes saints out of the raw materials of a life committed to God and to following God’s path.
We live in interesting times. No one thinks anything of pulling out their phone’s camera in any situation, taking photos of anyone else no matter who or what anyone else is doing. My photo of a beautiful sunset can be available in 30 seconds to everyone I know and to virtually anyone in the world. So can a photo of me in a compromising position – or a position that can be interpreted to seem compromising. Nothing in our lives can be hidden anymore.
The #ME TOO probes have brought much that was buried into the bright light of public scrutiny. And that is a good thing. Our churches and our businesses never need to give safe harbor to those who molest and oppress others, draining them of their dignity and their hope. Some days it seems as if the only news is a recitation of the worthless, the blatantly wrong, the greed of broken men and women competing in a race to the bottom.
We as believers in the redemption and grace of Jesus Christ are called to be different. To BE different all the way down to our core. God does not build worthless, broken people. We do that. We hide the talents God gives us under busy-ness. We think it is enough to tut-tut and criticize. We try to look the other way and not see. We judge others by ourselves, not ourselves by Jesus Christ. We take our loaves and fishes and melt out of the crowd, so that we are okay no matter how hungry anyone else is.
We are a small church, I understand, with few millionaires among us. But we do not worship a small God. We do NOT worship a SMALL GOD! We worship a God who takes a basket of 20 loaves of bread and some loose grain and feeds a community of 100 prophets. We worship a God who stretches a small boy’s lunch to feed 5000 people in a field in the middle of nowhere.
Every moment of every day we face a decision. Do I keep what God gave me for myself or do I use what God gave me for God’s kingdom? Do I focus on how small I am or on how great God is?
Jesus took the loaves and the fish from small hands and gave food to others until all were satisfied. Jesus Christ is still looking for loaves and fish to share. Do we really want to miss being part of the grace-filled work of the Holy Spirit in our world?