It’s a story which is probably familiar to many of you; it’s
one of the stories about Jesus which appears in all four of the
gospels. In my Bible, the heading identifies it as “Feeding
the Five Thousand,” although we know from verse 21 that it
was about 5,000 men, not counting women and children. The menu of
this feeding story--five loaves and two fishes -- is similar in
all the accounts, but only John’s gospel identifies those
as coming from one boy. In Matthew we’re not sure if the food
was what the disciples had brought for themselves, or if they asked
for donations from the crowd. In either case, it is not much food
and a whole lot of hungry people.
I’ve heard many fine sermons on this text, and the other
gospel versions of it, but what I want to consider this morning
is a question for which I may not have a very good answer. If you
think you know the answer, I’d really like to hear it after
the service. Here’s the question, ready? How much is enough?
Is enough all that we need? All that we want? All we can handle?
I ask this partly because I have had some conversations with folks
over the past weeks and months about having enough. Usually those
conversations have gone something like this, “I have had enough
of this.” Enough of this pandemic, enough of the isolation
from family, enough worrying about things I cannot control, enough
having children cooped up at home, enough of uncertainty about work,
enough of systemic injustice, enough of wearing masks, whatever.
I don’t know what feels like enough to you, but none of those
things I just mentioned are going away any time soon. What do we
do when we’ve had more than enough?
Of course, that’s the negative side of enough. There’s
also a more positive way to think about enough -- enough food, enough
support, enough prayer, enough rest. And although there might be
a limit to how much we need or want any or all of those things,
I’m guessing most of us haven’t hit the ceiling yet.
I think it’s clear that the purpose of the gospel story is
to demonstrate the miraculous power of Jesus to feed hungry people;
to show that Jesus’ ministry was not only about caring for
people’s spirits, but he cared about healing and sustaining
their bodies, as well. But I have to wonder how this miracle might
have played differently to a 21st century crowd. What if you were
at a big stadium event -- a political rally or a TED talk -- and
it went well-beyond supper time and there was no food available.
And suddenly ushers came around with barley loaves, and maybe a
bit of fish. No thanks -- Eww, I don’t eat seafood; I’m
gluten-intolerant; I’m eating KETO; where did that stuff come
from, anyway? It wouldn’t change the miracle of Jesus taking
bread and breaking it and multiplying it to share with thousands
of people, but if we are not willing to accept what Jesus is offering,
it kind of takes away the purpose.
I think it’s interesting that each of the gospels makes a
point to say how much of this bread was left over after everyone
had eaten and was filled -- after the men, and the women and children
who would eat only after the men were finished -- after everyone
had enough. Jesus wasn’t meeting only their basic need; Jesus’
sharing went beyond what they needed and even what they wanted:
it was more than enough.
I think there is a connection between having enough of what we
can’t handle and having enough of what we need. Here what
the common link is for me: Jesus is enough. Maybe only with Jesus
is it possible to have enough. People who are going through difficult
times -- and that’s pretty much everybody right now -- get
through them by the grace of God, by their faith in something beyond
ourselves, and with the support of a community who can hold us up
when we can’t stand any more. Jesus doesn’t put money
in your pocket or fill your gas tank or stock your refrigerator
-- sometimes our faith community helps with those things, but more
often we share the support which comes from empathy and shared struggle.
Offering a prayer or a card or a word of kindness may not seem like
a lot -- as paltry as a few loaves and fishes -- but when we offer
even small acts of kindness, it can be transforming. Both for the
person who receives it, and for those who are generous enough to
share what little they have. Sometimes the reassurance we have to
offer is that what we can do is enough. If you have cared for children
or aging parents -- especially at the same time -- you know how
exhausting it can be. Our best effort is enough; let go of being
perfect and ever-patient, and let the grace of Christ cover what
you cannot carry on your own. It is enough.
It is tempting to become focused on the scarcity in our lives --
too little time, money, rest, or renewal. But there is abundance
in what Jesus has blessed and broken and shared in our lives. We
see this expressed in the twelve baskets which the disciples collected
after everyone had eaten their fill: there was more than enough.
This abundance doesn’t necessarily belong to us: if the disciples
had hoarded the loaves and fishes which were given to them, a few
people might have gotten a little bit to eat, but there’s
nothing miraculous about that -- trying to keep stuff back for ourselves
happens every day. Every day. The beauty of this season, of God’s
creation, of sunlight and daisies and flowing water -- if you happen
to be sitting in sight of the Prayer Garden -- that’s for
anyone who takes the time to see it and appreciate it. Remember
this saying from several months ago: What if the only things you
had tomorrow were the things you thanked God for today? It’s
a good practice to pay attention to the left- overs in the baskets:
what do I have so much of that I take it for granted? So much that
I don’t even notice the abundance of more than enough.