A couple months ago, some friends and I were planning a big cookout. It’s amazing the things we needed to consider when doing this: What day should we do this cookout? And where? How many people are going to be there? How much food will we need? How much is it going to cost us? What time will we start this at?
Generally, as humans, we need to know these things. We rely on measurements. We need to know times, dates, cost, numbers. It’s how our brains work. If we got a phone call from a potential employer who said “come in for an interview,” but didn’t tell us a date or time, or perhaps not even an address, we’d be lost and confused. What do we do? How can we do this? Or, we’re told to prepare food for a dinner, but aren’t told how many people we’re serving, we’d be having anxiety attacks, wondering if we have enough food. What happens if we don’t? Our minds would be buzzing with questions and concerns.
In our text from John 6, we see a lot of these simple facts appear. We can estimate the time of year, and time of day, by what is said (it was near the time of Passover, and it was during the daytime as evening had not yet come until after they’d all eaten). We know the general area – a large grassy area on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. We know how many people were there, and how much money it would have cost for each person to even receive a small amount of food. We know how much food they had available to them. We know how much was left over.
We tend to do this with people as well. The measurements we work with here are not numbers, but rather are based on our experiences. And we then measure other people to these experiences, placing everyone in a nice little box.
For example, if all your life you have been abused by men, when you meet someone who acts even remotely similar to one of these men (the look in their eyes, the gruff sound of their voice, their stature), you automatically put that new person in a box labeled “abusive”. Or, say you had a little sister who was good natured, always worried about hurting you, enjoyed sitting with you and talking, was a little goofy and incredibly sweet and caring… and several years later you meet someone with these same characteristics, you automatically place this person in a box, thinking of her as a little sister. We need to do this – we need to categorize and measure people according to our knowledge and experiences so that things make sense logically in our own minds.
We find this as well in our text. The people gathered there together had heard of Moses many times. They were taught of this great prophet, and were taught that a new prophet would come. So, when Jesus performs a wondrous miracle, they recognize him as being the foretold prophet. However, all they know of as a prophet is what they’ve heard of Moses, and therefore measure Jesus against that knowledge, placing him in a box of being similar to Moses.
The placing of Jesus in a nice little box is not reserved only for these 5000 people who gathered a couple thousand years ago. We still do it today. We still measure Jesus’ abilities by what we know, and what we’re capable of understanding. We place limitations on God’s ability. We simply cannot comprehend anything beyond our own experiences and knowledge.
In both the text from John, and the text from 2 Kings, we see God taking what the people see as a limited (and not nearly enough) amount of food, and feeding multitudes of people with it with food left over. In our Gospel reading today, this limited amount was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Think about that for a moment. In your own family, how far would 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish go? Would it be enough to fill them? Now, split that amount of food up with the combined populations of Medina, Streeter, Gackle, Cleveland, Tappan, Woodworth, Pettibone, Dawson, Steele, Napolean, Pingree, Buchanan, Montpelier, Edgeley, Ellendale, Robinson, and Jud.
This concept is inconceivable to us, and it was inconceivable to the disciples as well. And yet this is what Jesus did that day. He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it… and was able to feed 5000 people until they were full. And there was still some left – 12 baskets of fragments.
God’s ability surpasses our understanding.
It’s interesting to note that our reading this morning is a story which is told in all 4 of the Gospels. Each Gospel tells what Jesus did with the bread:
In our reading from John this morning: “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.”
Matthew 14:19: Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
Mark 6:41: Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
Luke 9:16: And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
Compare this to the Last Supper:
Matthew 26:26 - While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
Luke 22:19 - Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
As you can see, the feeding of the 5000 is almost identical to the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. It is almost identical to what happens during Holy Communion. This cannot be overlooked or dismissed as simple coincidence. In our reading today, we had 5000 men who were most likely just like us. They were sinners. They most likely had lied, cheated, stole, hurt others, did not love each other as Jesus said we should. They were just like you, and me. And yet Jesus fed them all with 5 loaves of bread – just as Jesus continues to feed us daily.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh, we have been given the blessing of forgiveness. All of us. No matter what sins we have committed, we have been blessed with forgiveness. This concept is often beyond our understanding. How can God forgive me? How can God forgive the person who walked into a theater and opened fire? How can God forgive the mother who killed her own child?
We have nothing to measure this forgiveness against. There is no measurement for it. John attempts to do so by placing a number on the amount of bread, and placing that against 5000 people, and still having plenty left over. But it is still inconceivable. It still goes against everything that is logical in our minds.
But God is not logical. The abilities and power of blessings of God do not follow any human logic or reasoning. God cannot be placed in a box. The miraculous power of God has no bounds. His grace and mercy have no bounds. Just as after feeding 5000, there was still bread left over, no matter how many times God forgives us, he still has the ability and desire to continue forgiving us. He still continues to forgive us. He continues to give us grace and mercy. And he will continue to do so.