St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

Life and Death

Listen!
Exodus 3:1-10 | Matthew 16:21-26
Last week we talked about the way that Jesus seemed to hold back from using, or even allowing to be used, the title Messiah until a very late point in his ministry; it’s certainly a striking feature of the gospels, that Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone who he is.
And I suggested that the reason for this was that Jesus knew that the cultural expectations of the Messiah were very different from the reality; that if people heard he was the Messiah before meeting him, they would view him through the lens of messianic expectations. But if instead they came to know Jesus as he was, and only then realised that he was the one they were waiting for, they would instead be able to view the idea of Messiah in the light of what they knew of Jesus.

And this sense that Jesus is working to redefine expectations – and the difficulty of doing so – comes out strongly in this week’s reading. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed”

And the sense of just how much work Jesus has to do to change the way people think about being Messiah is evident in Peter’s response: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”.

Jesus needed his friends, his disciples, to accept a fundamental truth about God – and about God’s way of working in the world – which went completely against everything they thought they knew.

For they had been raised on the Hebrew Bible reading of history, a reading in which faithfulness to God, obedience to the law, could be mapped unfailingly onto blessings for the family and the nation; but compromise with other religions, neglect of the law, inevitably led to disaster. And while we on the subject, it’s worth noticing that in this respect the Hebrew telling of history breaks the most basic rule – that history is written by the winners, and therefore always paints the authors well. Hebrew history, written (or at least compiled) in exile, was written by the losers. And so it tells a story in which every success, every glory for the nation is attributed to God, and every disaster is blamed upon the people.

The occupation of the land by Rome, therefore, represented the consequence of a moral failure by the people. And each of the four main parties within Judaism had their own explanation of just what that failing was: to the Pharisees, the failing of the people was their falling away from the letter of the law; to the Sadducees it was the neglect of the Temple and the sacrificial system; to the Essene it was simple worldliness; to the Zealots it was cowardice, the refusal to take up arms and do the work of God by force.

Each group had their own explanation of why the people of God were still under the thumb of Rome, and what they needed to do, how they needed to change, in order that God would save them.

For they all agreed that when the people repented, God would send a saviour, a messiah, to free them from their suffering, their hardship, their slavery. As Moses had been sent, so long before, in the foundational story of the people.

And I don’t think that there is any doubt that, as Jesus gained a following and increased in popularity, the different parties were testing him to see where he fitted, working out, no doubt, whether they could use this new “Jesus movement to their advantage” – for let’s face it, human nature really hasn’t changed. We see evidence of this manoeuvring in the questions he is asked and the criticisms he receives. But as Jesus moves into the final phase of his ministry, his teaching takes a turn which doesn’t just place him outside of any of the power groups that existed, but that fundamentally and radically rejects the whole premise of their disagreement.

The people of Israel are arguing about what they must do for God to send the Messiah to bring them victory and freedom from Rome, and Jesus says “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. While the people argue about how to win God’s blessing, Jesus asks “will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life”.
As if to say “you keep on using that phrased ‘blessed by God’. I do not think it means what you think it means”.

You want to follow me? You want to live like God created you to live? You want to make a difference? You want to be part of the movement that will bring God’s kingdom to reality? Stop worrying about what will make your nation, your people, your tribe, great. Stop worrying about what will make you great.

You can work to save your life – to enhance your reputation, to protect your legacy, build your monument. But you will lose your life, your heart, your meaning, doing so.

Or you can give that away, for the sake of being one of my people, and find out what it really means to be alive.

Human nature hasn’t changed. We face the same questions, the same challenges as Simon Peter and the crew. We bring a different set of assumptions and cultural presuppositions, but not as different as we might think: we still want to believe that the path of the righteous is smooth, that God will open doors for us when we are going the right way, that in, after all, the words of the Bible, God will prosper our paths when we walk in his way.

And you could fairly say, weight for weight, page count for page count, that that is the message of the Bible: live right before God and God will make your paths straight.

But we aren’t followers of the Bible. We are the followers, the people of Jesus. We strive to read the scriptures through the lens of the life of Jesus, and not the other way around.

And the life of Jesus – and here, in this passage, the teaching of Jesus – and ultimately, of course, the death of Jesus – tells a different story. A story in which doing the right thing, standing for truth, for justice, for inclusion, for love, does not see you praised and rewarded; it sees you crucified.

No wonder the disciples didn’t want to hear it: for these are the hardest words Jesus would speak to them – to follow him may be to walk the way of opposition, criticism, persecution. And you can choose not to. You can save you life, and lost your meaning. Or you can take up your cross – whatever that is for you – and live the life God calls you to.

What you can’t do is say that you want to follow him, and expect it to be easy.

Amen

Service of Lament

This coming Friday (apologies for the short notice…) an ecumenical service of lament for asylum seekers will be held at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, Waverley, at 10:30am. For more information, call Patricia Dunn, 0432 598 892.

On Rock

Listen!
Matthew 16:13-18 | Romans 12:4-8
It’s a deeply held truth in the Goringe household – and I know that we are not alone in this – that when a man becomes a father, he loses all ability to judge the quality of a joke, and, indeed, is imbued with a deep and profound ability to make extremely bad jokes. In my case, much to the distress of my children, most of those jokes involve a play on words; I can’t resist a good pun. Problem is, I can’t resist a bad pun either, and I generally can’t tell the difference.

But I do remember a pun a bilingual friend told me at school. It went like this: Two potatoes crossed the road. One of them was ran over, and the other said: “Oh my goodness”. The pun, of course, doesn’t work in translation. Hold that idea for a moment.

Today’s gospel reading brings us perhaps the most influential pun in human history. Having declared that Simon’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, the son of the living God, came to him not from human wisdom, but by divine revelation, Jesus says “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”. The pun, of course, is in the Greek – the similar sounds of the name Peter (Petros) and the word rock (Petra). “You are Petros, and on this Petra I will build by Church”.

But what is interesting is that just as the pun doesn’t translate into English, it doesn’t work in Aramaic, either. Unless Jesus was speaking in Greek, the joke, the pun, doesn’t work.

So this pun, found only in Matthew’s gospel (written for the Jerusalem Church), is a wordplay that doesn’t work in the language Jesus probably spoke. Which might lead one to suspect that these words were an addition, from the pen of Matthew, intended to boost the status of Peter in the debates that we know raged within the early Church – in particular the debate between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.

And of course, the boosting of the role of Peter is exactly the way the pun has been used throughout history, in the establishment of what became the papacy and of the authority of the hierarchy of the Church.

Peter, we are often told, means “the rock”; Jesus gives Simon that name and declares that he is the rock on which the Church will be built.

But the word Petros, Peter, actually doesn’t mean rock. It means stone. The word Jesus uses when he says “on this rock I will build my Church” (and elsewhere – for instance, the wise man who builds his house on a rock), petra, means the mass of connected rock – bedrock, a cliff, a mountain. Petros, by contrast, specifically means an isolated piece of rock, a stone, something someone could throw.

Without wanting to put too much emphasis on such details, it’s far from clear that the words recorded in Matthew’s gospel were intended to establish Peter as the “rock” on which the Church would be built.

It might be more productive, instead, to explore the play on words this way: Simon, having made his declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, is to the foundation of the Church as a stone is to the mountain – made of the right stuff, but only a small version, a fragment, of the real thing.

Simon – Peter – is stone now, for he has had revealed to him the truth of who Jesus is. But God’s Church will be built not on one small stone, but on the mass of connected rock. Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch even to think that many stones, many Peters, joined together, might make the rock on which the Church can stand so firmly that the gates of hell will not prevail.

But I’ve skipped over what I think might be the more interesting part of this passage. This short conversation between Jesus and his disciples is one of those passages that occurs in all three of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and which also sits in very much the same place in each narrative. In each, it marks the first place where a human speaker explicitly names Jesus as the Messiah.

He’s been with them for over two years; the idea that he might be the one, the messiah that had been promised, and that John the Baptist had declared was coming soon, must have occurred to them. But it hasn’t crystalized, or hasn’t become clear enough in their minds for them to make the outrageous claim.

And of course, he hasn’t made that claim for himself, either – not directly, unambiguously, at any rate.

It’s as if Jesus didn’t want the title, the label, of Messiah, with all it’s baggage and preconceptions, until the time was right. So he spent two years or more with the disciples, teaching them, sharing his life with them, showing them, like a master showing an apprentice, the ways of the Kingdom of God that he had come to proclaim.

They needed to know him, as Jesus, before they knew him as Messiah. Our first thoughts about anyone or anything powerfully shape how we see what comes after – first impressions really do count. If the disciples had known him as Messiah first, and the person Jesus second, everything he said and did would have been seen and heard through the preconceived ideas of Messiah: but by allowing them first to know him as he was, it was possible for him to redefine the idea of “Messiah”: they saw the Messiah through the lens of the person Jesus, and not Jesus through the lens of Messianic expectations.

Perhaps this is why, in each of the three gospel containing this story, the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah is immediately followed by the command not to tell anyone. Because he doesn’t want people’s ability to hear his message to be shaped by their identification of him as Messiah.

And I wonder how much we suffer from that problem. Our ideas of Jesus are not, for the most part, shaped by Messianic prophecy; but each of us encounters the gospels already knowing much – perhaps too much – about Jesus. It’s hard – not impossible, and well worth the effort – but hard, for any of to “meet Jesus again for the first time”, as Marcus Borg named it. We see him too strongly through what we already know or believe about him.

When, for instance, we think about the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus – the Christian declaration that Jesus was not just fully human, but also fully God – we tend to hear this doctrine through the lens of our ideas about God. And we accept it – or reject it – on those terms.

But when the Christian faith declares “Jesus is God” instead of hearing “so everything you know about God is true of Jesus”, we ought perhaps to hear “so everything you know about Jesus is true of God”. If we want to know about God – we start, not with theories of philosophy, not even with the revelation of the Old testament or the epistles: we start with Jesus.

As the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, … He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being

Or indeed, in the opening to John’s gospel, we read:

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

It’s the outrageous claim of our faith that if you want to know what God is like, what God cares about, then you don’t look first at God’s self-revelation in the Old Testament, or in the epistles; you first have to look at Jesus. Look at how he treated those who were different, marginalised, excluded, young, old, foreign. Look at what he taught, and showed, about a life lived fully for God.

And this idea – that Jesus made himself known before he advanced any claims about his identity, that he wanted people to know who he was and what he was like and how he lived before they were presented with the labels – Messiah, Son of God – surely has a profound impact on how we communicate the good news of Jesus; to our children and grandchildren, to our friends and neighbours.

For so often Christian education and Christian evangelism seem to start with advancing claims about Jesus and attempting to sustain them; telling people Jesus is their saviour, that he is God, that he died for them.

But the model of Jesus was, as every writing class will teach, to show, not tell. To live a life that clearly pointed to something, and only then reveal that that something was God. He taught them about the kingdom of God, and called them to follow, but the claims about who he was, he kept quiet, even once those closest to him started to cotton on.

Which leaves us with a two-fold challenge, as we seek to share the good news through our community. The first is to enable others to see and hear the life of Jesus – making the stories of Jesus, and not just doctrinal claims about Jesus, known. Which has to mean, to really know those stories for ourselves. To be so immersed in the gospel narratives that we could tell a Jesus story at the drop of a hat.

And if that sounds demanding, uncomfortable, threatening, it’s nothing to the second challenge: which is to live lives so shaped by the values of the Kingdom that Jesus declared; so shaped, in fact, by the same things that shaped Jesus, that when people discover we are Christians, their reaction is “oh, that explains it” (and in a good way).

As Peter himself (perhaps) would later write: always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you for an account of the hope that is in you; the implicit challenge, of course, is to live in such a way that they ask.

Amen

Raising Kids to Thrive

Arden school are hosting a seminar by Michael Grose, “Raising Kids To Thrive”, at 7pm, Tues 2nd Sept.

· Michael Grose is one of Australia’s most popular parenting and educational presenters, the author of 8 books for parents; a former parenting columnist for both News and Fairfax and a regular on TV programs such as The Today Show, The Circle and radio 774’s Saturday Program.

· Michael will be presenting a parenting seminar ‘Raising kids to thrive’ at Arden, 7pm on Tuesday 2nd September. A light supper will be served at the 8.30pm conclusion. Tickets are $12 and can be booked through www.trybooking.com/97047 or by calling 9484 1146 – by Monday 25th August.

Loss and Grief Seminar

White Lady funerals are hosting a free “Loss and Grief Seminar” on Wednesday 3rd September. From the flyer…

Grief educator and author, Doris Zagdanski is returning to Sydney to present her most popular community seminar, titled ‘Stuck for Words’.
This is based on her experiences of working with grieving people for the past 30 years. Hear her real life stories and learn from her practical examples.
This program is ideal for those who work in palliative care, health, aged care, counselling, pastoral care, peer support, emergency services, education, volunteering or wherever you meet grieving people.

Download flyer

On the Water

Listen!
Psalm 85:8-13 | Matthew 14:22-33

And so, after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus finally gets the time alone that he was looking for. He sends the disciples on ahead in the boat (and incidentally, I was left wondering about when and how the disciples arrived – they didn’t come with Jesus on the boat, so did they come with the crowds? Perhaps they were the ones who told the crowds where to find Jesus…) and then he dismisses the crowds.

And he went on up the mountain, to pray. His need for time alone with God had not been cancelled by his encounter with the crowd, by the abrupt way he was thrown back into the work of his calling, teaching and healing and feeding the crowds. He might have been able to put off his personal retreat, but he still needed to take that time out, that time to pray. Rescheduled by events, not replaced by them.

I guess this gives us a bit of a sense of the importance that Jesus gave to prayer. It may not have been as urgent as the needs to the crowd, but it was sufficiently important that once the immediate need had passed, he returned to plan ‘A’: pray.

And it seems he spends the night there, for it is only in the early morning that he reappears into the story.

The disciples, in the meantime, have had a rotten night; in the boar, far from land, battered by the waves, the wind against them. Presumably they haven’t slept; it’s been a long, wet, uncomfortable, unproductive night, fighting against the elements. Although it’s not a storm, as they face in another story, threatening to drown them, the fear is no doubt there, as they struggle to keep the boat moving, afloat, getting tireder, watching the weather which might any time turn worse.

And then they see him, walking on the lake. And they were terrified.

Well, you would be, right?

They thought it was a ghost – not, as I first assumed, when I read this passage, a word carrying the alternate meaning of spirit, or hallucination, but a ghost, a phantasm, the spirit of someone dead (the Greek word isn’t used anywhere else in the New Testament). Perhaps a sailor’s superstition; that those who are soon to drown are welcomed into the waves by those who have previously gone under.

I wonder if it occurred to Jesus, as he walked out across the lake, the effect that his appearance would have on those in the boat? In Mark’s telling of this same story, Jesus walks as if to go past them, to meet them at the other side of the lake; Matthew at least would tell us that Jesus was walking towards them! But did he realise how terrifying his appearance would be? At any rate, his first words – as so often seems to be the case in the Bible – were of reassurance: “don’t be afraid. Take heart! It is I”.

But all of this, Jesus walking on the water and all, is really just a prelude to the real story. The miracle here isn’t Jesus walking on water – well, I mean that is, but it’s the sort of thing that we kind of expect Jesus to be able to do, with the benefit of hindsight. But what happens next:

Peter walks on water too.

Now I’m guessing that the most common sermon theme from this point on is the way that Peter walks on the water for as long as he stays focussed on Jesus, but that when he starts to focus instead on the waves and the wind, his fear returns, and he begins to sink. The miracle happens when Peter stops thinking about the problems, the barriers, the dangers, and instead simply focuses on the one who has called him. And perhaps such a sermon might end by noting that when Peter realises what is happening, he cries out to Jesus – and Jesus rescues him.

And that’s clearly one of the messages in the text. I’ve certainly preached that sermon: perhaps even three years ago when this passage last came up in the lectionary.

But the problem with that way of telling the story is that it kind of puts the focus onto Peter’s failure to trust. Which is really a bit unfair, when you think that Peter is the one who got out of the boat.

In fact, I’ve noticed that we do this a lot with the disciples; perhaps because it’s reassuring to see them as having, like us, their faults and limitations. Thomas becomes doubting Thomas; Peter gets remembered for denying knowing Jesus. It’s good to know they weren’t perfect, but perhaps we sell them – and ourselves – short when we fail to give as much attention to the things they got right. And worse – much worse – I fear we do the same to other members of the Church, when we focus so much more on the things other people or groups or denominations get wrong (or that we believe they get wrong) than on the things they do which are good and right and just and true.

In any case, in this particular story, we definitely sell Peter short when we think about the reasons that he sank.

He got out of the boat. He, of all the disciples, was the one to walk on the waves with Jesus.

And, before he did, he asked for Jesus to call him to do so. It was as if he knew that this was possible; that he too could do something amazing, something way outside of his personal abilities and experience – way outside anyone’s personal ability or experience – but only if he was called to do so. He believed in the miraculous, but not as something inherent to him.

This is not the story of Peter reaching within, finding the resources he needed to step out of the box, to do more than he thought he could do. This isn’t about some sort of flourishing of human capability – it’s about him hearing that single word: “come”, and obeying, believing, that that word made it possible.

If Jesus called him to do it, he could do it.

And perhaps most of the disciples would be there; perhaps most of us would. If we heard Jesus call us – in whatever way we hear that call – we would have the courage to step out of our comfort, out into the unknown, to do and be more than we ever believed we would. Hearing Jesus and obeying isn’t what makes Peter unique in this story – important though listening and responding is.

What Peter did, and none of the others did, was to ask Jesus to call him.

If it is you, command me to come to you on the water

Hear the strange mixture of faith and doubt in those words? “If it is you”. This isn’t some rock-like solidity of faith (if you’ll excuse the pun which only works in Greek); he thinks in might be Jesus, but he isn’t sure.

And yet with that partial, conditional faith, Peter asks to be called: with, as we see in the way the story pans out, the willingness to at least begin the process of obeying, if the call cones.

And I wonder if, for many of us, much of the time, just as for the other disciples in the boat, this is the step in the life of discipleship we miss? Willing to respond, to step out in faith, even onto the waves, when we hear the call, see the need – St. John’s is a wonderful community at looking after those within and beyond its walls who need help (not perfect, of course, but no community is).

But I wonder how good we are at seeking that call? Whether we could honestly pray:

Lord Jesus, call us out of our boat;
It was comfortable in here once,
But the wind and waves are against us,
And sometimes it’s a struggle even to keep going.
Call us out of our boat,
Command us to something beyond us,
To walk on water,
We’re ready,
If it’s really you,
Call us.

Amen

5000

Listen!
Isaiah 55:1-5 | Matthew 14:13-21
So, the feeding of the five thousand. Surely a Sunday School favourite – all those people, a small boy with a packed lunch (although he doesn’t get a mention in Matthew’s gospel), Jesus says grace and five thousand people have enough to eat with twelve baskets left over.

Such a good story, in fact, that in the very next chapter of Matthew, we have almost exactly the same story again – with four thousand people, and only seven baskets of leftovers.

Given the limitations of space, and the similarity of the stories, it’s interesting to wonder why both gospel writers thought it was important to include them both. For what it’s worth, the most convincing explanation that I’ve heard given is that the two miracles are mirrors of two aspects of Jesus’ ministry: that the feeding of the 5000, with twelve baskets left over, somehow signifies his work amongst the Jews (12, of course, being a very important number in Hebrew tradition), and that the feeding of the 4000, with seven baskets left over, signifies his work amongst the gentiles.

But while that’s nice idea to play with, it’s a bit abstruse, and not obvious what it has to contribute to our life of faith. So let’s stick with the five thousand, for the time being…

Of course one thing about hearing this story as a stand-alone story, as we so often do, is that we take it out of its context. We hear it as – well, as a miracle that Jesus just did one day. If we were to tell the story from memory, many of us might not recall the final words – five thousand “not including women and children” – really? Matthew? Did you miss Jesus’ memo about women and children counting in Jesus’ kingdom? There’s a sermon in that phrase… but not today.

And I’m guessing that we also wouldn’t remember the first few words.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself

Something has just happened: something that leads Jesus to leave his teaching, leave the disciples, take a boat out by himself and head for a deserted place to be alone.

What happened? Well, it’s not hard to find out. Just read the opening verses of Matthew chapter 14. John the Baptist has been beheaded in prison, his head the original ‘served up on a platter’ as a rather gory gift for Herodias’ daughter. John’s disciples “came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.”

And it was when Jesus heard this, this news of his cousin, that he withdrew. And perhaps that’s not surprising. In Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ life, he and John the Baptist are closely linked. John speaks of Jesus as “the one who is to come after me”, and it is when John was arrested that Jesus’ ministry begins – as if Jesus is consciously and deliberately stepping into John’s shoes – or sandals, or whatever one wears with camel hair clothes. So it’s perhaps no surprise at all that the news of John’s execution gives Jesus reason to pause, to wonder, perhaps, whether he’s being entirely wise, whether, perhaps, those in his family who wanted to bring him home, shut him up, might not have been onto something. The family had lost one young man in the prime of his life – was he to be the next?

So he withdrew. Went off seeking some time alone with God, some clarity, some sense of “what now?”

But, as if to demonstrate that the phenomenon of celebrities being mobbed even when they are desperately seeking to be on their own isn’t an invention of the modern age and the paparazzi, when the crowd heard that Jesus had gone off in the boat, the followed on foot; so that when he landed, there was a great crowd awaiting him.

“And he had compassion for them, and cured their sick”.

Jesus may have retreated because he needed time out to himself, or even because he didn’t know what he was going to do next, but his mind is made up for him by the appearance of the crowd. It’s almost as if the crowd were God’s answer to his uncertainty; in their need he found the answer to his question – “what do I do now?”. His calling, his mission, his reason to be willing to upset those in power, was right there, on the shore: people, in need. In need of healing, in need of teaching, in need of forgiveness – and needing to forgive – in need of the light burden and easy yoke that Jesus had offered in place of the heavy loads of religious conformance born by the Pharisees, and, by the end of the day, in need of food.

I’m guessing that most of us have times when we just want to get away – to withdraw in our boats, find a deserted place by ourselves. And it’s worth noting that when Jesus felt that need, that’s exactly what he did. There are a number of places in the new testament narrative where Jesus retreats, spends time alone with God, often at the key turning points of the story.
But those retreats end, sooner or later, as we are confronted once again with the needs of the world around us: whether that be the practical needs of daily living, the emotional needs of family or friends, the cry for freedom of those oppressed by the injustices of political or economic systems, or the immediate physical needs of those around us; we re-encounter the mission to which God has called us, the mission that was Jesus’ and is now ours – the mission to be God’s people, making real the Kingdom of God in which those who are in need – whatever that need may be – find others who are prepared to help them.

A kingdom in which the community of the people of God serve the needs of the community of God’s people; which is to say, all.

But we’ve just been spending the past few weeks reading parables; so perhaps by now we’ve learned that it’s always worth while putting yourself into more than one place in the story. We’ve reflected on the story from the perspective of Jesus – what about for the crowd?

The most obvious thing for the crowd – and forgive me if this seems rather a simplistic observation – is that they got fed.

All of them.

Without question or qualification.

Rachel Held Evans, reflecting on this story, suggested that there is a sense in which all of the other stories of Jesus are wrapped in this one. The blind man healed in there in the crowd. The woman caught in adultery is there – and so is her lover, and her husband. The syro-phonecian woman is there, and so is the Pharisee who wouldn’t share a room with her, still less share a meal. The thief who would turn to him on the cross is there – and so is the one who didn’t. The Roman soldier who would crucify him is there. The disciples are there, of course – including Judas, the one who would betray him.

Not literally, perhaps – but the crowd is everyone. And they are all fed, all break bread together, without worry about who belonged, who was baptised, who was a member of the movement, who was an outcast, who was a sinner.

The feeding of the five thousand speaks of God’s radical inclusiveness, reaching out to all – reaching out even to us.

And of course this has a message for us, for our attitude to others, for our willingness to reach across the boundaries that we, as humans, so easily erect; barriers of sex or sexuality, of language or culture or place of birth; of social or educational status; of age or creed or denomination.

But there is a more basic, more profound message in the crowd: that we can find our place there. That when, sometimes, we feel like no-one special, like someone Jesus’ wouldn’t notice, like someone he – or his friends – would turn away: especially if they knew what we were really like, if they knew the things we’ve hidden all these years, that even when we want to hide in the crowd, we can still be there, and still be fed. We’re not always up to playing the part of a disciple; never (truly) up to taking the role of Jesus in our act of the play (though perhaps we are called to that more than we choose to hear); sometimes we need to be one of the crowd. Sometimes we are, whether we like it or not. Sometimes we’re even right at the back, not sure if we are even in this crowd.

But we are. And the miracle extends to us. The bread of life reaches out and feeds us. We get as good a meal as those in the box seats. All ate and were filled. For there was more than enough.

Twelve baskets more than enough. Enough that having eaten our fill, enough is left over for us to take home and give it to those who weren’t even there.

Perhaps this miracle is a better picture of the kingdom than any parable….

Amen