Today we have in the Gospel reading what the retailers call TFPO – two for the price of one. We have the account of the feeding of the 5,000 and also the account of Jesus walking on the water.
Some of you may know that I help with the Square Meal lunches at Ty Price and I have recently done the course on food hygiene and taken the test – and now I wait to see if I have passed and get the certificate, but there is a world of difference between feeding 30 people as they do at Ty Price and feeding 5,000.
Now when a preacher sits down to prepare a sermon, he or she will normally look at the gospel then look at the Greek text and then recall its theological significance and how various theologians have commentated on the text; but what is equally, if not more important, is to spend some time to pray with the text to discern what God is wanting the preacher to say about it and there are a variety of techniques for doing that.
When it comes to an account of an event in the life of Jesus I often use the Ignatian method of prayer when you imagine yourself as one of the characters in the scene or as a bystander watching what is happening and imagining what is being said and done. This is an old method of prayer introduced by St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits in the 16th century.
So I began by delving into my theological memory about the feeding of the 5,000. I recalled that there were less than 2,000 people living in the area so people must have come long distances. I recalled that this is probably an eye witness account because of the detail like the grass was green. I recalled that some scholars have suggested that this was an army on the march although I think that is unlikely. Some have suggested that this was a sacramental meal because the rest of the Chapter is about being spiritually fed with the body and blood of Christ. I also recalled that this is John’s Gospel where Jesus is always in charge of events. Then I imagined that I was there with Jesus and his disciples when one of them said, ‘Master, we have a problem’.
I imagined them looking at the growing crowd and the disciples saying to Jesus ‘Where did this lot come from?’ and saying, ‘Religious hospitality requires us to feed them – how on earth are we going to do that? Philip said that it would be far too expensive and anyway the local shops would not have enough stock. But Jesus remained calm and told them to sit down. He was in charge.
I then imagined that I was in the crowd and had travelled a long way – at least 9 miles – to see and listen to this man I had heard so much about. Could he be the messiah and could he heal the sick and what was he teaching? I had travelled a long way and was glad to be sitting down and it wasn’t too hot and even the grass was green and we were all ready for a picnic. I had of course packed my Marmite sandwiches but like everyone else but I didn’t want to get them out and start eating on my own and I could hardly offer them around and in any case not everyone likes Marmite. Then a small boy went forward and offered Andrew his packed lunch – five barley loaves and two small fish and Andrew offered them to Jesus and that shamed the rest of us who reached into our shoulder bags for our sandwiches and shared them with one another. And why is it that when you have a picnic you always take more food than you need – there were 12 baskets full left over. There is of course enough food to feed the starving in our world if only we can learn the lesson of sharing.
Well, is that what happened? Is this a miracle of what can happen when we show hospitality and share what we have? Is this a story teaching us about generosity and sharing because Jesus in the same gospel at the wedding in Cana turned over a hundred gallons of water into wine? Is this an example of the abundant love of Jesus who teaches us the blessings of generosity because there is that strange religious economy that discovers that the more you give away the more you receive and if you are generous to God, he is generous to you.
Then I thought about the stilling of the storm and Jesus walking on the water. My theology reminded me that water is a symbol of life in John’s gospel – John the Baptist was baptising with water; Jesus turned water into wine; he offered the woman at the well water springing up into eternal life and on the cross water poured from his side. His disciples were fishermen called to be ‘fishers of men’ and the ark, a boat is the symbol of salvation. John’s gospel ends with the account of the miraculous draught of fishes symbolising bringing the whole world into the church, the ark of salvation.
Then I imagined that I was at the oars on the boat. Now I have been on a large boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm suddenly blew up. That was frightening enough but now I was imagining being terrified and trying to be row a small boat for three and a half miles and feeling exhausted and wondering if we would drown or be saved. Was our mission with Jesus ending by being drowned. Then we saw Jesus walking towards us – maybe he had spotted some stepping stones to walk on or maybe he was walking on the surface and he said, ‘It is I; do not be afraid’. Then I remembered that that was the most frequent command given by Jesus to his disciples. It wasn’t to tell them to pray or even to preach. It was, ‘Do not be afraid’.
If we were in Scotland today, when you got home over lunch someone might ask, ‘Did the minister give you a word?’ That is to ask what you remembered from the sermon. Well, if I hope you might remember two things – the importance of generosity and sharing – and the need not to be afraid. Amen.