“They ate and were satisfied”

Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. (Matt 14:20)

I remember the Grocke family in North Adelaide, Immanuel Lutheran church, the church I joined as a young Sem student. They had 4 teenage boys. I happened to be at their place one afternoon at 3.30 when they got back from school. “Watch this,” the mum said – “this is crazy hour…”  And sure enough. Within minutes, there were the hordes, “Mum, what can we eat – there’s never anything to eat around here…”

“Try feeding this mob,” the mother continued, “A trip to the supermarket means grabbing 2 shopping trollies at a time.”

I’d forgotten how much teenagers can put away.  In my teens I would go through boxes of cereal at a time, consume entire tins of milo… now I just have to inhale over the open tin, and the pounds stack on.

O, to have a teenage metabolism again. But even with the appetite of a horse, when I was growing up, my mother had a strict ‘no more afternoon tea at 5pm – rule’ She didn’t want us kids filling up on cereal and Milo shortly before tea.  She knew we wouldn’t be interested in the meal she had prepared for us. And I hate to admit – she was right – I learnt an important lesson. You’re not hungry if you are full, even if you’re full of low-nutrition food.

As I was reflecting on this passage last week, I began wondering whether our ‘spiritual’ appetite hasn’t been spoilt in many ways. Jesus is offering the bread of life Are we hearing the invitation?  There is so much other bread available – bread that also promises to satisfy – but it doesn’t really.

Could it be, that we are feeling quite full already? Could it be that we already have too much ‘bread’ ,too much on our plate, our cups and plates are overloaded, that there is no more room for the ‘heavenly bread?

Sometimes it’s a good idea to stop and look around.  When it comes to food, our supermarket shelves and pantries at home are stacked to the brim. But physical comfort is just the beginning.  We fill the plates of our personal needs with luxuries of all descriptions, creature comforts, toys, experiences, pleasures.  We try to make sure that our lives are comfortable and secure, our daily bread can easily become

checking the news, planning for the future, and making sure we’re safe.

So, the big question to you today is, when you hear a word Jesus giving the invitation to come and be satisfied, whether there is a danger of no longer hearing it / dismissing it because of everything else on offer.

And this is not a new problem. Jesus encountered the danger of being misunderstood as to what ‘real bread’ is immediately after the miracle of the feeding of the people. The people have eaten. They want to crown the bread provider. The crowd follow Jesus across the lake – they want more of this. I can’t blame them, but Jesus tells them off: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

And he is pretty harsh in saying this too. The word Jesus uses for “fill” in means “‘to give fodder to animals,” something like the German ‘fressen’.  In other words “You only followed me because you pigged out,” says Jesus.

You see, especially in the parallel passage in John, how Jesus re-orientates them:

“Don’t work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life which the son of man will give you” and “The work of God is this: believe in the one he has sent.”

What he is saying is, there is a bread that spoils and perishes. No matter how much you eat of the bread of pleasure, or popularity, or security in the end it goes off. No matter how much bread you get in this life, if won’t keep you alive forever. No matter how much you watch your diet, do your exercises, keep track of your finances or toys – you won’t take them with you. They can’t last.

You and I were created for substance, something that lasts eternally. Everything this world has to offer is temporary, gets stale, mouldy, and decays, so it can’t prevent that same fate from happening to you.

When Jesus was confronted by 5000 hungry people in a barren place, he was given a morsel – a kid’s lunch. And he took what was available, 5 small barley rolls and two small fish, and he created a smorgasbord. He took this little offering, and there was so much that we are told that twelve baskets were left over.

But this miracle was just a picture to show you that you need more. This miracle sets the scene to hear Jesus’ voice ‘That you may believe that he can feed and satisfy you.”  Or put another way: This is a ‘sign’ as John puts it in his Gospel, and this is what he writes at the end. “This is written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Have life! You see, the miracle of the multiplying of the loaves begins when you hear that this bread of life is “for you”.

It is not “God so loved the world”.  No, it is ‘God loved you’. Jesus didn’t suffer and die for the world.  No, it is for you that he did that. Jesus does not just show us the way to the father.  No, he is the way to your father. And not only that Jesus is the first of those to rise from the dead. No, you are going to rise to life. And when Jesus says “ this is my body, this is my blood” you know, it’s given and shed for you.

Only love can change your hearts. When it does, you see the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish take place because your eyes are opened to in 2 ways.

  1. Firstly, we see what doesn’t satisfy us. This is one of the most heart-warming changes you see in young Christians when you hear testimonies of “I used to…”

Money, holidays, beauty, success used to mean everything to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  Nothing bad with any of these things. They just don’t define my life anymore.

We can stop chasing after things that won’t satisfy anyway. They lose some of their importance, and with that, their grip on us.

2)        But secondly, your eyes are open to see what does satisfy, what real satisfying bread is and you find in the mystery of following Jesus, and the paradoxes of his teaching: life in death, reward in service, gain in giving, freedom in submission and obedience to others and having your hunger stilled, being satisfied in feeding others. In other words, discovering love in your life by sharing love.           

That is where this miracle take place again. God still touches us with this miracle of multiplication. We feed others with the bread of love.

One of the places where I first discovered this, and I have discovered it many times since – just as you have, too – was in my first parish, as a young pastor. It was a rural parish, where my members were mainly farmers and their families. What I discovered there, was that farmers do hard physical work and have big appetites. Boy could they tuck into their food and on Sundays you would see some of these big blokes come to HC and be fed on a sip from a cup and a little piece of bread. And in that they were spiritually nurtured.

In 1998, one of the farmers was diagnosed with leukaemia, aggressive and fast-growing. Around harvest time, he was laid up in hospital. One of his friends put his own harvesting on hold to help out. Soon there were three, four, six headers bringing in the crop for this sick man. I witnessed the multiplication of helping hands out of love and compassion. The harvest was reaped in a week.

And what a celebration that was, not just for the family, but the whole community.

That is the multiplication of loaves: Knowing love by sharing love.

As Baptist pastor and author Alan Jenkins wrote so beautifully in a prayer: Lord, we meet you in the brokenness of the world, and the cries of the hungry for bread. Enable us to be the bread that you break which provides life for the world, and when we come again to your table, Lord, ourselves broken, may we once more become the bread of sincerity and truth, as you become for us the Bread of Life.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all report: “They all ate and were satisfied.” In John we read: “Jesus took the loaves and the fish and distributed to those who were seated, as much as they wanted.” This is the best possible ending. What looks likes crumbs is turned into blessing – and all eat and are satisfied.

You and I are called to feed the hungry, the spiritually hungry, that God puts around us. Sure, at times the task seems overwhelming.  You can identify with the disciples:

“you must be kidding, humanly speaking, the task can’t be done, the job is too big, or too complex, or too exhausting.”  But that is exactly the point – humanly speaking, we can’t…

But our God is a God of unexpected surprises. All we have to do is hear his invitation again: “Bring it here.” Where we are willing to let him bless and use the little resources we have, just like he did the five loaves and two fish, no matter how ordinary and deficient they might look, the little faith, a little time, some inadequate word, simply acts of kindness, we can be astounded by the surprise of abundance: Crumbs turned into feast, friendships formed, needs helped, hope given. That is love – and this love is the real food, the only food that all can eat and be satisfied. Amen.

The audio of this sermon is on the web page.