“After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”
It’s a miracle!!!
I can see the excited headlines plastered across the newspaper. Or, in today’s world, I can picture the trending topic on Twitter, and the stories filling my Facebook news feed.
Jesus Feeds 5,000 People, and You’ll Never Guess What He Does Next. Hashtag #BreadMiracle. Something noteworthy is happening here. Jesus’ behavior is not normal. In today’s reading, Jesus is attracting attention. Crowds are following him. But why? The text says the crowd “saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.” Right before this, Jesus has healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. God is up to something special, and the people know it. Something is drawing these crowds to hear Jesus.
So everything’s going well, and a huge crowd of people is gathered together, ready to hear what Jesus is teaching today, ready to see what He’s going to do. And……problem. It’s time to eat, but no one brought any food. Either these people are all terrible at planning ahead and didn’t realize they’d need to eat, or Jesus’ teaching is so engaging that they can’t help listening and they lose track of time. I’m going with that one. The crowds were immersed in Jesus’ teaching.
Now, it’s interesting that this feeding miracle is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that appears in all four Gospels. It’s so typical for John – Jesus is completely in control, already knowing what He’s going to do; He’s just asking as a test. Apparently, Philip fails the test, since his response, his perfectly logical response, is essentially, “I have no idea.” Feeding all these people would take a miracle. Fortunately, Andrew comes to the rescue. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” He’s right. Five loaves and two fish are not going to do much good. It would take a miracle.
Jesus has the people sit down, divides them into groups, takes the bread, gives thanks, and distributes it to the people. And everybody gets free food, and everybody’s happy. Actually, everyone’s really happy. People like the free food so much that they want to make him king. And why not? Think of the economic prosperity from having a king who can miraculously, (magically?) multiply stuff! But apparently that’s not what Jesus wants. He’s got something different in mind than being a vending machine.
At the beginning of the story, the crowds were following Jesus because of the signs He did. Jesus begins his teaching by telling the crowd, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Then He goes on to talk about himself as the bread of life, manna from heaven, the true bread for the world. Not the kind of bread the people are expecting. Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations. Jesus doesn’t fit into their box.
Later on in the scripture, we get this quick story about the disciples getting into the boat ahead of Jesus and going on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As they’re going, it gets stormy. John doesn’t mention them asking if they’re going to perish, but I think it’s safe to assume they’re a little on edge. Then, a few miles into their trip, they see someone walking on the water towards them. And, as John records, “They were terrified.” An entirely reasonable reaction! People don’t walk on water. Jesus reassures them, but then, instead of calming the storm, they suddenly, immediately reach the land they were going towards. That’s actually weirder to me than the whole walking on water thing. The Jesus tele-porter! It’s a miracle.
So what do we do with these miracle stories? The people who saw them didn’t seem to have any problem with them. They followed Jesus because of the signs, because they were fed. But why do we follow? Sometimes we actually seem repulsed by the miracles. We don’t want Jesus breaking our nice little boxes of what’s possible. It’s like we’re afraid of what might happen if we dare to believe in a God who doesn’t follow our rules. I know how the world works, and this isn’t it. People don’t walk on water. Bread doesn’t come for free. This story doesn’t fit. It’s a miracle. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not explainable.
These are hard stories to believe when all the evidence says they’re impossible. In a world where there are starving people, where there is so much going wrong in the world, in our lives, how can we possibly dare believe that God provides for us? People don’t walk on water and bread doesn’t multiply. But then, in my experience, people don’t rise from the dead either. Personally, I tend to believe these stories actually happened. If Jesus can rise from the dead, I’m ok with believing He can walk on water. Maybe God isn’t bound by our understandings of physics, by what we think is possible, by our rules. Maybe God is capable of more than we can understand. Maybe, because of the cross, because of the rest of the story, we can dare to believe that God is present and active in a broken world, even where we can’t see it.
In a world of rules, a world that says “How dare you claim to be loved? How dare you claim to be made worthy? How dare you claim to be forgiven?” We believe in a God of miracles. We believe in a God who gives freely, not according to worldly rules. Because God does love you. God does make you worthy. God does forgive. God does provide. And even though we might be afraid to believe it, even though we don’t understand how it works, God is present!