New Haven, CT
26 July 2015
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This week on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver looked at food waste in America. According to his statistics, America throws out forty percent of the food we produce annually, totaling $165 billion. It’s enough to fill 730 football stadiums. At the same time millions of Americans struggle to keep food on the table. The United States is the largest consumer market in the world, buying nearly thirty percent of the planet’s goods. We live in a throwaway society, where things are cheap and it’s easier to replace than repair. This not only has an impact on the world’s environment, but also on its most vulnerable people.
Our Gospel offers a different vision. When we encounter Jesus today he has just crossed from one side of the Sea of Galilee to another. John is quick to remind us that it was also called the Sea of Tiberias, named for the Roman Emperor at the time. This little note grounds us in the reality that Jesus is building a new kingdom in the midst of an old one, subverting the status quo. Something is going to happen and it’s going to shake the foundations of the world.
The miracle happened just before Passover, the feast that commemorates Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptian captivity. In Egypt God broke the bonds of slavery, freeing the Hebrews from the grasp of Pharaoh. Jesus, then, is the new Passover. In the Eucharist we proclaim, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” In today’s Gospel we see what that means.
So, Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee and he finds himself confronted with a crowd of thousands. Since this miracle is the only one to appear in all four Gospels, we get a couple different angles on the story. In Mark’s Gospel we are told the day was winding down and the people were getting hungry. Here, though, the question of how to feed the crowd starts is much more pedagogical.
How would we respond to Jesus’ question, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat”? I think many of us, myself included, would respond like Philip. It would be great to feed everyone, but it would cost too much money. Is that really the best use of our resources? Being responsible with what we have is important, and we should make the best use possible. But this wasn’t about money, or resources, or even about food. Jesus wanted his disciples, and us, to learn something about the nature of Christ’s kingdom: God will not abandon us.
God will not abandon us. In the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus’ disciples think the crowds should be sent away to find their own provisions. They had surveyed the supplies and were only able to come up with five loaves and two fishes, which quite obviously would not have fed close to the numbers present. In Christ’s kingdom people who are hungry aren’t sent away empty. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it. The image of Jesus blessing and breaking bread echoes through scripture and into our Eucharist. Before his death, near the Passover, Jesus took bread again and gave it to his disciples, and act we remember and take part in as the Church.
The bread Jesus offers isn’t only to satiate our physical appetites. In that way it stands in stark contrast to the bread offered by the Romans. In the first century Rome distributed to its citizens bread, often alongside gladiator games. The Roman poet Juvenal coined the term “bread and circuses” to deride the system he felt was creating an apathetic populace. While there is merit in making sure those in need are fed, the dole was a method of controlling the populace, making them more reliant on the ruling class.
The bread of Christ is different. If you read further down chapter 6 of John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Far from being a means of control, Christ’s bread brings life to the world. And, unlike Rome’s bread, it’s available to everyone.
Christ’s bread is abundant. Not only did everyone present eat their fill, there were twelve baskets of leftovers. In the Bible twelve is often used to signal completeness: twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples, twelve gates to the New Jerusalem. We are filled with Christ and made complete. What makes Christ kingdom different from our own world is that the abundance doesn’t lead to waste, but completeness. Jesus doesn’t preside over a throwaway Church, but a Church being made complete through him.
We’ve gathered here today to share a meal that’s much like the feeding of the five thousand. We take bread, lift it to God, ask for it to be blessed, and we break it. Each of us will eat the bread and be blessed. In his book Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes, “As the Beloved ones, our greatest fulfillment lies in becoming bread for the world.” In our Eucharist we not only partake in Christ’s body, but become Christ’s body, bread for the world. Nouwen compares our life as God’s beloved with the bread, being blessed, broken, and given.
We are blessed in our Baptism and through the Eucharist. We are marked as Christ’s and are heirs of Christ’s kingdom. Our blessing is rich and abundant, and is marked by our life together.
We are broken. Each of us in our own time faces our demons. They may be anger, loneliness, depression, or any number of things. Brokenness is a basic human experience. We’re not lesser because of it. Jesus shares in our brokenness, knowing the pains and struggles of being human. Still, Nouwen reminds us that each of us experience our brokenness in our own way. He writes, “The way I am broken tells you something unique about me. The way you are broken tells me something unique about you.” Being open about our brokenness and laying it before Christ offers us a deeper union with God.
Finally, we are given. If we become the bread of Christ it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t offer ourselves to the hungry. We can’t leave our blessing at the altar. The abundance we receive in the Eucharist should be shared with everyone who is hungry, whether they are hungry in spirit or in their belly. Our abundance is for the life, and completeness, or the world.
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
 http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/07/20/john_oliver_s_last_week_toni ght_segment_on_food_waste_breaks_down_why_it.html