John 6:1-15
Marilyn McKelvey Tucker
Seminary Intern
July 29, 2012

NRS  John 6 1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he 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?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10 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. 11 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. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

As I read this passage over and over again this week, I was reminded of when I was a child, growing up in Montgomery, AL. My church there had a Wednesday night program for youth and children called Logos, and for dinner we sat arranged like families at tables, with two adults as table parents and about five children of different ages. We children took turns going to get the plates of meat, bowls of vegetables, baskets of bread, and trays of dessert. Miss Carol, who some of you met two weeks ago, and several other members of that church cooked for us. I never doubted that there would be enough, and through this certain gift of food, I felt loved.

I’m not sure when I first began to understand the idea of scarcity. I am sure there are many who could quite rightly argue I still don’t truly understand it, and never will. I have always had enough. But scarcity, as defined by classic economics, says that humans have unlimited wants and needs in a world of limited resources. On this tenant stands all of classic economics, from supply and demand, to optimum production charts.

And yet, when it comes to food production at least, in the last ten or twenty years, the world has for the first time produced enough food so that everyONE could have enough to eat everyDAY. That is radical and scandalous and the logical follow up question is “then why do people still suffer from hunger, and even die from starvation?” The simple answer is that the food may be produced, but it is not distributed evenly. The complicated answer involves the production and business plans of incorporations which control the vast majority of food distribution, processing it, labeling it, and turning it into a commodity to be advertized and sold for profit.

But although the economics of food has changed dramatically since the early first century CE, the driving force of scarcity has not. People were just as worried about having enough 2000 years ago as they are today.

Now I really do believe in this miracle of multiplication. I believe that Jesus took those five loaves, and those two fish, and through the power of God broke them into enough pieces for everyone to have enough. But I have always been able to accept the mysterious, and rejoice in wonder instead of feeling compelled to find empirical evidence. I am after all, the child who heatedly argued with her third grade teacher that it just wasn’t possible that there was nothing at the North Pole but ice!!!

But as I studied, preparing to write a sermon this week, I found a surprisingly large number of commentators who want to treat this miracle as a miracle of “stone soup.” You remember the story about stone soup? Two soldiers on their way home from the war come to a village. They ask for food at each of the houses surrounding the square, but are turned away at every door. Each family says they only have enough for themselves, and they simply cannot share. So the soldiers end up hungry and alone by the well. One gets an idea, picks up a stone from the ground and goes to a house, asking to borrow a soup pot. The woman at the door asks why. “My friend and I are going to make stone soup, but we need something to boil the water in.” She asks what stone soup is, and he replies “I have a magical stone that will make soup from nothing but itself and water.” The woman gives him a pot and then goes and tells her neighbor about the strange stone these two men possess. The two soldiers get to work, building a fire, and bringing the water to a boil. The fellow with the stone drops it in. Soon the neighbor comes out to investigate, “How is it coming?” He asks, skeptically gazing into the pot. “Wonderful!” One of the men replies, “But you know what would make it even better?” “What?” asks the neighbor. “Potatoes.” “Yes,” the other nods, “potatoes really do help round it out.” “Well I think we have a few in the pantry, I’ll go check.” He returns with three potatoes, and watches the men cut them up and add them. They get to talking and soon another villager sees the conversation from across the square and she comes to join in. She asks what they are making. “Stone soup” the answer comes, “but don’t you think it could use some carrots?” one soldier asks the other, “Why carrots would fill it out nicely.” His comrade replied. “I’ve got some carrots,” the lady offers, “I’ll go get a few.” Soon other villagers come to join the conversation, ask about the soup, and contribute onions, beans, peas, and last but not least, a little rosemary. The soldiers declare their stone has made enough to share, and everybody brings out bowls and spoons, and makeshift tables are erected, and the whole village has soup. Hospitality is given and received, food is shared, strangers become friends and everyone has enough.

The “stone soup” version of the feeding of the five thousand says that Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and started passing it out. Once everyone was seated, and saw how the teacher was sharing, they all began to pull out their own packed lunches, settling down for the best picnic ever, where those who had forgotten food, or just didn’t have any to bring, were fed by those who had more than enough. Hospitality was given and received, food was shared, strangers became friends over a shared meal, and everyone had enough.

Now if you have a very hard time believing in the miracle of multiplication which John presents us today, I don’t think your faith is weak. I don’t think that the “stone soup” interpretation lessens Jesus power, or the importance of his teachings. The “stone soup” version of the feeding of the five thousand is a miracle of generosity, and I think Peace Presbyterian Church lives into this miracle, every time members serve the mission of Beth-El with their resources of finances, time and labor.

But I also think the best picnic ever in this story is not just about food. The lesson here is not limited to one of generosity, however important a lesson that is. Because this story not only breaks the myth of scarcity of resources on which our entire economic system is based. This story breaks the myth of scarcity we have concerning the grace and love of God. This picnic, on a nice spring day, with a nice sea breeze, up on a mountain, in a meadow of grass, with enough for everyone, is a glimpse of the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is not only enough food for all, where not only can everyone sit in the wondrous comfort of creation, but where there is enough grace for everyone, there is enough love for everyone.

And this abundance is not something which will only be experienced at some pre-determined time when the Kingdom of God has come in its full Glory, all the Saints have been raised, and there is a new heaven and new earth. There is an abundance of grace today. There was yesterday. There will be tomorrow.
There was that day on the mountain.


And during those forty years in the wilderness when the manna was found on the ground every morning.
And when Elijah promised the widow that her flour and oil would not run out.

 And there is enough grace for those who lived wonderful, inspiring, love and joy filled lives even when they are cut too short by our reckoning.

And there is enough grace for those who, for reasons we may never understand, bring automatic weapons to a movie theater killing twelve and wounding fifty-nine.

So what is it that makes the feeding of the five thousand the best picnic ever? I don’t think it is simply that hospitality was given and received, food was shared, strangers become friends and everyone had enough. And I don’t think it is that the location was lovely, the weather was wonderful, food was fabulous and the Savior was serving.

I think Jesus knew people would respond well to an analogy of food. It IS a universal need after all. And although I know that some people do not love food, love cooking food, love feeding people, the way I do, that universal need for food, whether we savor it or just eat it because we know we won’t get by without it, makes for a very nice analogy to our universal need for grace.

So Jesus demonstrated the abundance of God’s grace that day with loaves and fish. And I think that is why he instituted the Eucharist, a meal, as a way of remembering him, his sacrifice, and his grace. 

         So when you come to the table today, remember that Christ’s grace not only abounds for us, but in us.Hallelujah! Amen.