“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Jesus says that in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s one of the most profound and confounding statements made in religious history. Think about it, “Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be filled.” Does this come naturally to us? To bless—actually bless—our hunger? Certainly, it undermines every message we’re sent in our culture about pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and the definition of success being a life lived in comfort without the shadow of need ever darkening the door.
Jesus (as usual) has another perspective. Satisfaction or ease, according to Jesus, is not an enviable position. Jesus turns the world on its head—puts the first last and the last first. Jesus, with Godly eyes, looks into the face of need not with pity or with fear or with despair. Jesus is so unintimidated by need, so confident that need shall be met, that he is able to bless hunger as the prerequisite condition of true fulfillment.
It's easy to come across this line in the Sermon on the Mount and sort of just dismiss it. We want to roll our eyes a little bit at the naivete of hippie Jesus. This isn’t the way the world works. Let’s just hope it’s bit of harmless poetry. A one off. He’s not gonna bring that up again. To those of us who are full already, Jesus’ perspective can make us a little uncomfortable. Because Jesus confronts us with the knowledge that what we are full of does not satisfy us, and that we might need to divest ourselves of our comforts, in order to find the path to true fulfilment. And that is unwelcome news.
But it’s much harder to dismiss the story of the Feeding of the Multitude, the loaves and the fishes, which essentially takes that one wild line from Jesus’ sermon (“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled,”) and breathes it into a full-blown, not-to-be-ignored miracle. It takes that impossible line and turns it into an impossible-possible reality.
Other than the resurrection, this is the most central miracle to our understanding of our faith. As you all know, it’s the only miracle that’s recorded in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And in both Matthew and Mark the miracle is recorded twice. So, six times we return to this miraculous feeding. Six times. Let’s put that into a little more perspective. The story of Jesus feeding the disciples, sharing bread and wine with them at the last supper, a story we retell every time we perform the sacrament of communion, is recorded only three times. John’s gospel leaves it out entirely.
But listen again to the language John uses to describe the feeding of the 5,000: “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.” Does that sound familiar? It’s very close to the words of institution we speak over the bread and the wine during communion. So, many scholars believe that when John’s Christian community sat down to the sacrament of communion, instead of recreating the last supper they were recreating the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient church used by the earliest Christians near Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, which many believe to be the likely location of the feeding of the 5,000. And they uncovered an altar in this church—the altar that would have held the sacrament of communion. And on the altar is a mosaic depicting fives loaves of bread and two fish.
You cannot get away from this miracle, from its centrality to our faith, from its beautiful symbols, or from the simple presentation of its almost incomprehensible message: God aligns the abundance of heaven with the scarcity of earth. That’s an inescapable gospel fact demonstrated over and over again. It is good news for the poor, the hungry, the powerless, the mourners, and a caution for the rest of us. As Mary sang when Jesus was still in her womb: “God has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich God has sent empty away.”
God aligns the abundance of heaven with human need. As I mentioned in the children’s sermon, the disciples do not yet recognize this reality. We don’t have enough money to feed them! Well, we got some bread and fish, but what good is so little in the face of such need? Jesus demonstrates this great mystery to them. Do you feel how mysterious this miracle is? That’s a key to understanding it. Jesus doesn’t turn the rocks on the ground into bread for everyone. Jesus doesn’t magically multiply the fish in front of the crowd as they ooooh and aaaah. He just sends the food out. And somehow, by some miracle invisible to us, there is more than enough. Do you see the key there? The miracle is not that God will turn your one loaf into ten loaves. The miracle is that when we allow God to touch the little that we have, God is able to make it sufficient. But if we hold back what we have, what we do, who we are from God, then no amount of anything that we ever get will ever satisfy us.
Perhaps the spiritual key to this mystery is to accept that rich or poor, hungry or satisfied, lowly or mighty, all of us are in a state of ultimate need if we don’t have that which is of ultimate importance—God. In one story, Jesus meets a devout and rich young man. This young man has lived a blameless religious life, but longs for more. Jesus tells him there is one last thing he must do: Go, give away everything you have to the poor, and then come and follow me. And the rich young man goes away very sad because he has so much. And Jesus laments how hard it is for the rich, for the full, to enter the Realm of God. It’s not class warfare. The gospel writers are very careful to tell us that Jesus loved the rich young man. It’s just a psychological reality of human nature. We are easily distracted by bright and shiny things. We fundamentally believe that power and privilege are necessary for human flourishing. And we horde resources we don’t actually even need.
We saw what happened with toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, right? There was no scarcity. There was no lack of TP. There was no slowdown in production or distribution. We had the same amount we had always had. But just the thought of scarcity, just the idea that our toilet paper supply might be…wiped out, left many of us heading into the bathroom with Kleenex and the napkins left over from last night’s takeout. There was no scarcity though. It was the idea of scarcity that led to us being a world of toilet-paper haves and toilet-paper have-nots.
Jesus is telling us that the opposite is also true. If we believe that what we have been given, when it intersects with God’s perspective and power, is not only enough, but more than enough, that attitude gets around. Everybody breathes a little deeper. Suddenly, there are leftovers everywhere. And that’s an important part of the message of this miracle to us today. As we try to figure out how to reboot in-person community, in-person church, in-person ministry, it is so critically important for us to come together and just get out there, and we don’t need to oversell it. We don’t need to overthink it. We don’t need to have or do or be enough. Right? “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” All we need is a little abundance. A little abundance is 10% substance, 90% attitude. And that is how Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.
This is why this story is so important. It’s the whole story of the good news in one event. It’s the whole story of how Jesus provides for us and then pushes us to provide for others from the place of abundance that he has welcomed us home to. It only takes a little abundance to get a miracle going. Don’t you have just a little? Don’t we at least have that? What if we trusted that it was enough to make miracles?
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations