Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When [Jesus] 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.
Bread for the World engages in organized advocacy, equipping ordinary citizens to write personal letters and emails, meet with their members of Congress, and to work with others for change in policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist.
ELCA World Hunger’s emphasis is more on direct action with the communities affected, supporting sustainable solutions that get at the root causes of hunger and poverty. Some of those solutions involve, but are not limited to, providing for health clinics, microloans, water wells, animal husbandry, and community meals. It is pleasing to note that each year during Lent, many ELCA congregations designate the offerings collected from their Mid-Week services to benefit ELCA World Hunger.
During this entire past year, our world has been in the physical and emotional grip of the Coronavirus pandemic. For most rational beings, and for nearly every waking moment, our minds have been concerned chiefly with staying safe.
Yet despite our fears of illness, it is important to recognize that most of us get hungry more often than we get sick. Hunger is a more immediate need. We all need to eat. And the challenges of hunger are compounded by the harmful impact of COVID-19.
Here are some glaring statistics found on the Bread for the World website, on the consequences of COVID-19, and hunger, for the most vulnerable in our society, along with links to more detailed information:
- COVID-19 could cause extreme hunger to double
- Malnutrition weakens peoples’ immune system.
- Children who are malnourished face long-term health and cognitive consequences.
- Even people and families who do not contract the virus will be impacted by loss of work and wages.
- Individuals detained in immigration facilities and prisons are especially vulnerable because of their close proximity to each other.
- COVID-19 can affect all populations. But those who are older, especially with underlying medical conditions, are most at risk.
The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story found in all four gospels. In fact, Matthew and Mark each have an additional account of the feeding of 4000. So in all, we have six feeding miracles to compare. As a result, in my time in ministry, I have perhaps preached more sermons on this miracle than any other story in Scripture. Therefore each time it comes up, I am challenged to restrain myself and not try to preach, but rather to emphasize one or two takeaways from this narrative.
Think on these questions as you ponder the reading:
- Why do you think this story, more than others, grabs the attention of all the gospel writers?
- What sets this miracle apart from the others recorded of Jesus?
- What does it mean for our lives today and for the ministry that we share as the Church – the body of Christ?
Obviously, Jesus is trying to teach us something of critical importance – that God’s economics are fundamentally different than human economic systems.
We humans tend to think in terms of scarcity. More often than not, we forget that we serve a God of abundance. In similar fashion, Jesus’ disciples also struggled with the enormity of the problem. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” Philip says.
But the key point in John’s version of this story, for me at least, is who provides the resources – a little boy. Keep in mind that women and children didn’t count in biblical society. Yet this boy, this insignificant creature, is the one who steps forward to provide the material for Jesus’ miracle. The boy gave faithfully what he had (and it was not much!) and Jesus used it far beyond what was imaginable.
The question for us, then, is what do we have, and how might God multiply it to feed those who are hungry?
Every moment we live believing in God’s abundance opens to us the possibility of repeating the miracle that Jesus worked that day on the mountainside. Jesus doesn’t ask us to solve the whole problem of hunger individually. He simply asks us to do our part. It is not up to us to perform the miracle, rather it is up to God to multiply what we give to Jesus.
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