Pentecost 9, Year B

I. Theme –   Providing for each other out of our abundance 

"Feeding of teh 5,000

"Feeding of the 5,000" – Daniel Bonnell

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – 2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm – Psalm 145:10-19 Page 802, BCP
Epistle –Ephesians 3:14-21
Gospel – John 6:1-21  

How do we provide out of our abundance ? What is hunger ? In this week’s lectionary, multiplication of food given to Elisha demonstrates God’s power to provide abundantly in the Old Testament. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to use their spiritual gifts to build up the Body of Christ. Jesus multiplies five loaves and two fish to feed the hungry crowd.  The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry recorded in all four gospels. As so often emphasized in John, Jesus takes the initiative, even before the people arrive. 

Hunger is multidimensional. People are hungry not only for bread but also for dignity, meaning, and happiness. Thus, we might ask the same question Jesus did: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

It’s a tricky question, as John implies with his parenthetical comment. The things which most satisfy our deepest hungers can’t be purchased. Still on the literal plane, Philip despairs: no amount of money could assuage the vast crowd’s hunger. (While they may well be physically hungry, remember that they followed him initially because of his compassion toward the sick.) Jesus’ silence directs us to look toward our own resources.

Faith is what helps us to understand the incomprehensible. Faith is what holds us to the path of God, the way of Christ. We are faced with temptations every day to live for ourselves, to satisfy our own greed and desires, and we forget the needs of others and God’s desire to live for others. In living for others, we find that we have life. In living for Christ, we find that we have lived for others. In thinking of the needs of others, we are reminded that we can be overwhelmed, as Elisha’s servant and Jesus’ disciples felt, or we can have faith, as Elisha and Jesus did, that the needs will be met when we serve and give out of what we have. It is not easy, but it is what we are called to do—and God always provides enough. We may not be able to solve the world’s hunger problems, but we can do our part to help those around us—and we may be surprised at what God can do with the little we have.

The child’s lunch box and the mother who probably packed it are a delightful reminder that “those who would be a blessing for others must bring what they possess to Jesus.” Without a scoff, a snicker or a doubt, Jesus takes the bread and fish into his hands with all confidence. Ignoring Andrew’s concern about scarcity, he provides an abundance. His action reassures those of us who deem our efforts too meager or skimpy to ever count as ministry, or to have any significant effect within God’s design. Instead we can count it, as did St. Ignatius of Loyola, “a toweringly wonderful thing that you might call me to follow you and stand with you.”

The miracle adds a new dimension to the picture of God given in Psalm 145. There, the people look hopefully to God as the source of their food. The opening of God’s hand satisfies their desires. In light of John’s gospel, we enter more directly into that process. No longer does God stand on one side of an abyss and we on the other. Now, Jesus takes our barley loaves into his hands and blesses them. In a co-creative act, we bring the food, share it with Jesus and each other, then gather the left-overs.

Those who are, as Ephesians calls us, one in body and spirit, cannot blame God for world hunger, neglected children and all our other social ills. For God has called us to partnership, graced our efforts, and made us abundant blessings for each other.

II. Summary

Old Testament – 2 Kings 4:42-44

The books of 1 and 2 Kings, originally one work, tell of the monarchy from the death of David to the destruction of the kingdom—including the fall of Israel (the northern part of the divided kingdom) to Assyria and the fall of Judah (the southern kingdom) to Babylon. Though the author concerns himself with careful historical accounting, his intent is primarily religious. The background of the author’s historical interpretations is always the covenant that bonded God and Israel in an ongoing relationship of fidelity.

This covenantal reflection is seen in the author’s insistence on the centrality of the temple in Jerusalem as the only acceptable place of worship. This reflects Israel’s developing monotheism, a belief system that began as an insistence on exclusive worship of one God, Yahweh (Deuteronomy 6:4), and came to full flowering as a recognition that there is no other god but Yahweh.

The Books of Kings were meant to keep Israel faithful, using lessons from history.

Thus, idolatry merits the harshest judgment. This idolatry takes the forms of shrines and altars built around the country, religious prostitution, the sacrifice of children and the fashioning of images for worship. Such practices deny true worship of the one true God.  

Today’s verses come from the Elisha cycle of stories that describe his prophetic ministry to the northern kings. 2 Kings 4:42-44 is the precursor of the Feeding of the Five Thousand by Jesus—in this story, one hundred men are fed by twenty loaves of barley and some fresh ears of grain. Both Jesus and Elisha respond to the disciple or servant who questions them, “How can I feed these people?” with the response to give. “Give it to the people,” or “You give them something to eat.” Even when what we have seems so little, God can do so much when we are willing to give, to share out of our abundance, to share out of what we have. 

In this short account, a man honors God, represented by the prophet, by offering him the first fruits of the new harvest. Elisha reflects God’s compassion for the people and insists that the food be distributed to the hungry. The small offering is miraculously multiplied “according to the word of the lord.”

Psalm –     Psalm 145:10-19 Page 802, BCP

Psalm 145:10-18 is a song of praise, reminding the hearer that God is always faithful, that God is always making things new, God is always lifting up the lowly and raising the fallen. God is faithful and just, and God’s love endures forever.

This is an acrostic psalm, each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.   The author exalts God for all God’s acts, and at verse 10 exalts God for provisioning all the creatures of the earth. It invites praise for God’s greatness (vv. 2-3), love of the people (vv. 8-10), kingship (vv. 11-13), help for the needy (vv. 14-16), justice and presence (vv. 17-18).

Epistle –   Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21 is a benediction that comes in the midst of Ephesians—some scholars believe Ephesians contains the pieces of several letters of Paul put together by one of his followers.

The Letter to the Ephesians is about God’s long-secret plan, now revealed, to reconcile Jews and Gentiles. These ancient enemies have been united in Christ. Today’s passage instructs a Gentile Christian community on some finer points of living together.   In chapter 3, Paul explains the link between his message and his ministry. 

Today’s reading is his prayerful response to this ministry of grace that he has been given.   The writer prays for the strengthening of faith to those reading and hearing these words—so that they may understand the love of Christ more deeply and experience the fullness of God in their lives. He invites God’s blessing on his audience so that they will experience Christ’s presence and begin to grasp the universal implications of God’s plan for them. He ends with a final hymn of praise (a doxology).

Gospel –   John 6:1-21  

The lectionary switches to the account of this event in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, with its amplified teaching about the bread of life. (We’ll spend five Sundays in this single chapter; the lectionary reserves readings from John’s gospel for the most solemn parts of Christmas, Lent and Eastertide annually, and this stretch of ordinary time every third year.) 

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry recorded in all four gospels. John’s account seems to come from a tradition independent of, but parallel to, the other accounts. As so often emphasized in John, Jesus takes the initiative, even before the people arrive (1:38, 4:7, 5:6, 6:5).

In setting the stage for his version of the Miracle of the Loaves John provides a highly symbolic setting to enable us to see the theology of the story he has chosen to relate. We are in a semi-arid area, on a mountainside. Moses should come to mind. 

John looks at the miracle from a three-dimensional perspective. He recalls the past by alluding to Moses and the feeding of the Israelites with manna in the wilderness (6:5, 12, 31; Exodus 16:4, 16) and, secondarily, to Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-16) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44). He recalls the present by the mention of the celebration of the Passover (6:4).

The future is implied both by references to the Christian eucharistic meal, where the actions “took…given thanks…distributed” are the same as those described by Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-24), and by pointing to the great messianic banquet (Revelation 19:9).

Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to “gather up…that nothing may be lost” (v. 12) anticipate later statements about his ministry (11:52, 17:12, 18:9). The people’s response to the sign is the desire to acclaim Jesus as “the prophet” (v. 14, the prophet-like-Moses, 1:21, 4:19; Deuteronomy 18:15). But this popular pressure causes Jesus to withdraw, for he does not seek this kind of political leadership.

The passage continues to contain the story of Jesus appearing to walk on the water that evening on the sea. The disciples are afraid at first until Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid.” But in between these two stories, we are told that Jesus was concerned that the people were going to take him by force to make him king. Jesus clearly did not come to establish an earthly political realm, but rather Jesus came to declare the kingdom or reign of God was at hand, and that all were called to be participants in the reign of God by following the ways of Jesus, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, to share what they had with others, to live for Christ and others.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old Testament 2 Kings 4:42-44

Psalm  – Psalm 145:10-18  

Epistle  – Ephesians 3:14-21   

Gospel  – John 6:1-21

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