“Hungry, Eager, Frightened, Calmed”Rev. Kirsten Hancock John 6:1-21 Year B: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)
Have you ever seen how much food it takes to feed 5,000 people? The San Antonio Food Bank is one of the largest food banks in the country. Last year, during Hurricane Harvey relief, they helped many flood victims in South Texas by meeting their immediate need for food.
I recently volunteered with my friend, Staci, sorting food and items in preparation for the 2018 hurricane season. There were about 50 people in this large warehouse going through many palates of boxes stacked quite high. In two hours, we sorted 16,962 lbs. This, we were told, is the equivalent of over 13,589 meals. In two hours, 50 people sorted enough food to feed 5,000 people for one day. We have too many hungry people and hunger deserts in the United States, feeding 5,000 people requires a LOT of food. Just ask anyone at the San Antonio Food Bank.
The ‘Feeding of the 5,000’ is one of many miracles we learn about in the Gospels. “The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle of Jesus reported in all four Gospels…the early church cherished the memory of Jesus’s feeding the hungry multitude and told the story in many contexts.’ Williamson 125 One of the reasons people loved to share the story was because the miracle showed people what God is like. People could relate to it as a “sign.” (Powell, Mark Allen. Introducing the New Testament. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2009 page 181)
When we arrive at the Feeding of the 5,000, Robert Bryant explains that the Gospel of John brings us to the Sea of Galilee, called Tiberias in John’s Gospel. Jesus has literally been chased out of Jerusalem for healing on the Sabbath and calling God His Father. (John 5:15-18) Feasting on the Word, 287 These events, John tells us, occur around Passover. Everyone should have been heading the other direction, but instead they follow Jesus and the disciples out of the city.
Allen Dwight Callahan notes that unlike the festival that Jesus disrupted by armed protest earlier, no money will change hands at this feast. No animals will be sacrificed; the meat of the feast is the flesh of a ritually clean animal never sacrificed – fish. The feast in Galilee promises to be the opposite of the Jerusalem Passover: without money, without sacral victims, and without the priesthood that overseas their exchange (Blount, Brian K. Gen. Ed. True to Our Native Land. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2007. Page 194).
This feast is accessible. Anyone can come. There is no hierarchy to who gets fed and who doesn’t. Most of the people fed that day were probably Jewish but Scripture does not clarify. They might not have been people expected in Jerusalem for Passover. It’s not the feeding of the 5,000 Jews or feeding of the 5,000 Gentiles of feeding of 5,000 poor people or sick people. The meal was available for anyone who believed and showed up. Our tables in our churches ought to be set the same way.
John 6:15 tells us that Jesus gets away from the crowd when He realizes they are about “to come and take Him by force to make Him king.” NRSV Another interesting point Callahan makes is that “five thousand is the head count of an army. Indeed, according to the Gospel, Jesus’ actions evoked an attempt to draft him as king in Galilee, a region of Palestine with a long history, stretching back to the age of Israel’s judges, of charismatic military leaders spontaneously chosen by popular acclaim. But Jesus eludes the draft (6:15) 194. Jesus doesn’t want to be drafted as king. He simply wants to feed his sheep.
This whole scene reminds me of when Samuel goes to anoint one of Jesse’s sons the next King of Israel after Saul dies. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider hi appearance of his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 2 Samuel 16:7 NRSV God tells Samuel to select David, the scrawny shepherd, the same way Jesus selects those who feast with Him – blindly with love, acceptance and abandon.
Today’s passage does not stop after the miraculous feeding of an incalculable crowd. Verses 16-21 seems to indicate that after this chaos near the Sea of Galilee with lots of food and people, Jesus and the disciples become separated. The disciples go out on the water in a boat without Jesus. We know Jesus withdrew to the mountain by himself.
Scripture doesn’t explicitly tell us why the disciples took the boat onto the sea without Jesus. Jesus was having some time to Himself. Maybe the disciples were going to carry on without Jesus as they had been doing before this time.
Hypothetically, maybe Jesus told the disciples to hang back but didn’t tell them why. Maybe the disciples took off without telling Jesus or asking Him to join them. Then the disciples find themselves far away from the shore in stormy, rocky water.
At this point, some of the disciples might have been thinking, “We shouldn’t have left Jesus.” Maybe this whole scene was set up to show the disciples another ‘sign.’ Sometimes, we take off in the boat without Jesus. Jesus hasn’t told us where to go, but he hasn’t given us direction, or Jesus isn’t in the boat with us. Either way, for a disciple of Jesus, this is not a favorable position. Both situations fill the disciples with fear.
These metaphoric situations frighten us today. But if we look up from the literal or figurative storm, we see Jesus walking towards our terrified persons, reaching out to us saying, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” John 6:20 NIV I wonder if the disciples heard him say that over the storm or in a small still voice.
Another thought on this passage come from Douglas Jones Hall in Feasting on the Word. “What is truly awe-inspiring is not that someone could walk on the surface of the water without sinking, but that his presence among ordinary, insecure, and timid persons could calm their anxieties and cause them to walk where they feared to walk before.” 286 The disciples helping Jesus feed all those people or looking to Him when their boat felt like it would capsize required the same amount of faith. Without looking to Jesus, in the storm if necessary, how could anyone believed they could meet the needs of a large congregation?
Jesus led the disciples to bring calm to a large, hungry, perhaps unruly crowd running away from Jerusalem at Passover, the same way He brought calm to the Sea of Galilee before their eyes. No matter who you are or what you think of yourself, Jesus wants to feed and calm you. No matter what you are afraid of, Jesus wants to walk through that fear with you. No matter how hungry your soul is, Jesus will feed you. No matter how anxious you are, Jesus will calm your storm. Amen.
Bartlett, David and Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3. Westminster John Knox Press: Knoxville, 2009.
Blount, Brian K. Gen. Ed. True to Our Native Land. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2007.
Powell, Mark Allen. Introducing the New Testament. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2009.
Williams, Mark. Interpretation: Mark. John Knox Press: Louisville, 1973.
About the Writer:
Reverend Kirsten L. Hancock serves as Interim Associate Pastor of Faith Formation. Woodlands Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas. A native of Guymon, Oklahoma, who grew up in Abilene, Texas is a graduate of Baylor University. She worked on several political campaigns before obtaining her M.Ed. in Gifted Education from Hardin-Simmons University, while teaching 8th grade U.S. History in Abilene, Texas.
Kirsten was a political organizer with state legislators and taught in DC Public Schools. She earned her M.Div. from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC and completed 5 units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Baptist Health System in San Antonio, Texas. Kirsten is a sustaining member of the Junior League of San Antonio and VP for Events for San Antonio Zeta Tau Alpha Alumni Group. She is the youngest daughter of Dr. Omer & Mrs. Judy Hancock of Abilene, Texas.
Scripture and Music:
2 Samuel 11:1-15
2 Kings 4:42-44
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
As We Gather at Your Table
Awake, O Sleeper
Become to Us the Living Bread
Blessed Jesus, Living Bread
Blest are They
Break Thou the Bread of LifeBread of heaven, on Thee we feed
Called as Partners in Christ’s Service
Christ, You Are the Fullness
Feed Us Now
Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive
Forgive Us, Lord, for Shallow Thankfulness
Gift of Finest Wheat
God of Grace and God of Glory
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face
In Christ called to baptize, we witness to grace
It Is Well with My Soul
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
I Will Sing the Wondrous Story
Just as I Am, Without One Plea
O God of Every Nation
Rise, My Soul, to Watch and Pray
What Does the Lord Require of You?
Peace Be Still