Yesterday was a Sunday of extremes. As well as the regular worship at St M's, 2 Eucharists and Evensong, I had a Baptism (for a congregation of 150, largely unchurched…the sort of experience I’m not in a huge hurry to repeat, as simply achieving crowd control was almost beyond me) and my periodic slot at the home for the Distinctly Confused. Here, things are looking good. The no longer so new management have employed staff who seem to recognise that they are caring for human beings, however absent and unreachable they may seem,- and a few months of this treatment have worked wonders. When I arrived, it was to find 18 elderly people sitting comfortably and even expectantly…and, wonder of wonders, someone had found a clean cloth for the table and even a vase of flowers. After the past traumas of trying to create a holy space amid the chaos of institutional tea, with residents coming and going, choking and spluttering, anything but focussed, this felt like the most enormous blessing before we had even started. Recently, I’ve been using a very simple form of Evening Prayer when I visit here, and this seems to be helping too. We know where we are going, and many of the prayers that take us there. Yesterday, the day’s Gospel also felt like a gift …speaking, to my mind, straight into the situation of this sometimes forgotten group, who seem to be only shadows of the people they once were.
Loosely in the spirit of St Ignatius, I invited them to come on an imaginative journey and mingle with the crowds on that hillside overlooking the lake.
We’ve followed Jesus all day, even when it became clear that he was tired, had had enough, needed space. We’ve seen lots of miracles today, but we still want more. Maybe this time it will be our loved one who is healed….It has to be worth sticking around, staying close to Jesus. You never quite know what will happen when he’s about.
But as the evening draws on, you don’t seem to be any nearer the front of the crowd. You are hot and tired, hungry and thirsty. You begin to wish you hadn’t come. The day hasn’t been that great, really. Nobody you know has been healed. There have been none of those spell-binding stories to take home and share with your neighbours.
And now, as far as you can see, you’ll be home so late that you’ll have to miss supper.
People are murmuring resentfully all around you, weary and frustrated.
They want Jesus to get on and do something.
Take on the might of Rome, perhaps?
It must be time he seized the initiative, but that just doesn’t seem to be on his agenda.
But such an amazing man of God could surely do anything…
You are stopped in your speculations as your stomach rumbles. This is ridiculous. Time to turn and begin the long trudge home, surely…Another time, you maybe won’t bother to turn out, thanks all the same.
But then the disciples, that group whose always closest to Jesus, start calling out, waving their arms about. In response to their directions, people begin to sit down, make themselves comfortable on the dry prickly grass. You’ve no quarrel with that idea. Taking the weight off your feet is an excellent plan. Maybe there will be something worth waiting for. A story? Another healing? Refreshments?
You crane your neck to see what’s going on. Hope turns to incredulity as you see, through the forest of people around you, the figure of a small boy wandering up to Jesus, with his little lunch box held out.
People begin to laugh,- not very kindly, to be honest,- and you join in.
It’s ridiculous. You’re all hungry, true enough, but that box can’t hold more than a couple of rolls and a few fish, that’s for sure. Even if he’s only planning to share it with Jesus, nobody is going to be exactly replete. From what you’ve seen of him, its unlikely that Jesus would sit down and eat while everyone else was waiting, anyway. What a pointless gesture!
But Jesus does take the lunch box, holds it up so that everyone can see.
One small lunch box.
Then Jesus says a prayer. You can’t hear the words, but its clear that is what he is doing. He has that intense, focussed expression he always has when speaking of or to God.
When he finishes, he hands the lunchbox to Andrew, who turns to the other disciples and passes some bread to them…Bread and fish, just as you thought.
But astoundingly, they are passing bread and fish in all directions…. More than could ever have been crammed into the box. More than one man could carry. …
Some reaches you, and it’s good. Fresh barley bread and pickled fish. Delicious. But where could it have come from?
We return to the present, where we know, of course, that this is one of the great signs that John shares with us,- one of the indicators that points to Jesus’s identity as the Son of God.
But it’s important to teach us something else too.
Our adult response, as sensible people who know what’s what, would be to agree that the contents of one small lunch box could never be adequate to feed a crowd of 5000 people.
We know what makes sense, and we use that as the basis for most of our daily decisions.
We’re practical people with our feet firmly on the ground, and on an everyday basis that’s a good thing.
Only with God, perhaps another approach might be better.
After all, on another occasion, Jesus used a child as a model for God’s Kingdom
Here, a child offered something small and woefully inadequate, and Jesus turned it into something wonderful, a gift for everyone there.
He can do that whatever we bring him.
He can do that, if we bring him ourselves.
We may be that we have nothing at all to offer, that our lives serve no practical purpose, that we are too small to make a difference in any way.
But if we come to God and offer him ourselves, just as we are, he will take us, bless us and transform us into a gift that will benefit others.