Bread For Tomorrow
BREAD FOR TOMORROW
At the turn of the last century this invention was called the Devil’s Work. I threatened people’s very way of life, so many communities banned the invention from town. Of course, I am talking about the automobile. And if you think about it, it sort of makes sense. If you have lived all your life seeing carriages drawn by horses, seeing a horseless carriage would be really strange and scary. Indeed, as Shankar Vedantam reports, marketing experts say what you need to introduce a new product is a Godilocks zone of the product being different enough to be interesting but not so different that it is scary.
In the feeding of the five thousand Jesus is taking something familiar to teach us something profound, the Kingdom of God, and makes it accessible to us if we are willing to look past the miracle to the meaning of the miracle. Jesus makes clear that he did this miracle for an important purpose. And he also makes clear that his disciples didn’t get it.
The feeding of the 5,000 was one of my least favorite miracles. Because I thought it was basically a super sized picnic. And one has to wonder if most of the crowd even knew a miracle was going on. They couldn’t see all the way up front.
One of the most common explanations for this miracle is that when the disciples shared their food they inspired others, who were hiding food for themselves to share. But this goes against the clear meaning of the text. The crowd didn’t get it. Modern scholars don’t get it. And the disciples didn’t get it.
Immediately, after this miraculous feeding, Jesus walks on water. And the disciples are scared to death when they see Jesus walking on water. Which in my mind is completely understandable reaction. You don’t often see people defying the law of gravity , that is why we call them miracles, because they are extraordinary, so we should be surprised when they happen. And yet, Mark says something that has puzzled me for at least two months, “ And they were utterly, astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Mark seems to suggest that if the disciples understood the feeding of the 5,000 walking on water wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary to them.
The good news today is this. When we become good soil for the Word of God we will get bread for tomorrow
- What Jesus taught the 5,000
- The Meaning of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes
First, we must understand what Jesus taught the 5,000. One of the strangest statements that Mark makes is that when Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he taught them many things. This is strange to me, because often when we are told of Jesus having compassion we are told that he heals people. Yet, strangely Jesus responds to the crowd, not by healing them, but by teaching them. I got to be honest if I came to see a miracle worker with the reputation of casting out demons, healing the sick, and bringing dead people back to life, and he did a Bible study that lasted for hours on end, I would be a little upset. I would leave, because that wasn’t what I came for. Yet, strangely the crowd doesn’t disperse, they stay. And strangely they stay for a very long time. Mark isn’t really clear when this teaching session started. But he gives the impression that it went on for hours, going late into the evening. And one has to wonder what did Jesus teach during that time?
Well I will tell you what he did not teach. He didn’t teach about friends, family, finances, relationships. Not that God doesn’t care about that he does. God clearly cares about what we care about but he wants to know if we care about what he cares about. And the scriptures tell us that God cares about something called the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God coming to Earth. And he taught in parables. He taught in riddles. Now we think those are good illustrations for farmers, seeds, plants, etc. But the scripture makes clear he only taught the crowds in parables. If I spent all my sermon telling stories and not telling you the meaning, you would get really frustrated. But that is what Jesus did. He did so to test people’s commitment to the Word of God. And I believe on parable in particular helps explain this miracle. And That is the parable of the sower.
In one of his longest teachings on the Kingdom of God Jesus describes a sower who sows seed on four different types of soil. There is the path, which is hard and has no room to grow. The birds come and eat the seed. Some seed falls on rocky ground, but it has no root, so it dies under the heat of the sun. Other seed fell among thorns. The seed grew up but was choked by the thorns so it produced no grain. Yet, some seeds fell on good soil. This soil yielded grain thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold. Jesus makes clear to the disciples what each soil represents. Those sown along the path are those who hear the word of God, but Satan comes and steels the Word from them. Those sown on rocky ground are those who hear the word, receive it with joy, yet they have no root, so trial and tribulation cause them to fall away. Those sown among the thorns hear the word but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things come in and it chokes the word and the word proves to be unfruitful. But the Word that lands on good soil are those who hear the word and accept it and they bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold. (Mark 4:1-20).
I think Mark uses this miracle to suggest that the crowd is actually good soil. In his explanation to the disciples about the parable of the sower Jesus tells them that the good soil is, “ are the ones who hear the word, accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.” The crowd came for healing that seems to clear. Yet, Mark does not record anyone being physically healed.
Despite not getting what they came for, this crowd sticks around. Because they are hungry for more than just Jesus meeting their physical needs. They are hungry for the Kingdom of God. And thus Jesus physically demonstrates one of the spiritual principles of the parable of the sower, that being creation, or multiplication. And that is what the parable of the sower says. When we accept the Word of God for what it is, it will embed in our hearts and grow up to change our reality.
As I mentioned earlier, Jesus was so intent on his disciples understanding this miracle, that he does it again in Mark Chapter 8., with the feeding of the four thousand. After this miracle, the Pharisees, Jesus opponents, demand that Jesus do another sign to prove he is the messiah. And Jesus refuses. Then he warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. When the disciples think Jesus is talking about actual bread, he refers to the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand. He is surprised that they don’t understand the lesson since he has repeated it twice. To understand what the lesson is we must first understand what leaven is. Then we must understand who Herod and the Pharisees were.
Leaven is another word for yeast. It is a fungus that makes bread rise and adds some flavor to the taste of bread. In the book of Exodus, God hears the cries of his people and delivers them from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh. When Pharaoh finally lets the Hebrews go after a series of horrible plagues, the last being the death of the first born, the Hebrews have to leave in haste, so they do not have time to put yeast in their bread. To remember this event the Lord told the Israelites not to leaven their bread for seven days before they remember the Passover, the event when the Lord killed the first born sons of Egypt but passed over or spared the Hebrew children.
Leaven makes bread bigger but it doesn’t make more bread. But the Kingdom of God makes more disciples, more miracles, more provision, if we are not just concerned about bread for ourselves but bread for others.
So when Jesus warns against the leaven of the Herod and the Pharisees he is saying these guys are inflating themselves. They look bigger than they actually are. Herod, was Herod Antipas, the puppet ruler that the Romans put in charge over Galilee, he decapitated John the Baptist in our reading last week. This is a warning about political power. This is a warning against gaining the whole world and losing your soul. This is a warning against cutting deals to gain worldly power.
The Pharisees were the opposite end of the spectrum. They stuck to a strict observance of religious law. They let the Romans do whatever they wanted as long as the Romans let them control religious matters and individual moral life. But the Pharisees would often neglect the needs of others in favor of religious traditions. For example, if some ones donkey fell into a ditch on the Sabbath the Pharisees would say it was against the law to help your neighbor get the donkey out of the ditch because you are not supposed to work on the Sabbath.
Political power often leads to corruption. Religious power often leads to a lack of compassion. But the power of the Kingdom leads to multiplication if we have good soil
Finally, this miracle demonstrates that the disciples are actually the rocky soil and the soil infested with weeds. The disciples first response to Jesus is not how they can help with what they have but how much it would cost them. A denarii was a days wage back then. So at minimum wage today that would be something like $10,000-$12,000. And that is a lot of money for a meal. But it is not a question of how much or how little money it is but whether we have compassion. And is this what God calls us to do. For when we lift up our eyes he will give us not just bread for today he will give us abundance, abundance for tomorrow.
Scholars have wondered what the significance of the two fish have, since bread is a much better Biblical metaphor. Perhaps this symbolizes Jesus promise to make his disciples fishers of people. Of course, his disciples would have fish on hand, they were fisherman, it was what they were good at. Perhaps you have heard the old saying give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day teach him how to fish you will feed him for a lifetime. Often we use this phrase in application to those who are lacking physically. But here Jesus is applying it to those who are lacking spiritually, to his own disciples. Because first they thought about the money. And then when the going got tough even Peter his most committed disciple denied him. But Jesus doesn’t forsake us. Whatever you are going through Jesus is just tilling the soil, clearing out the rocks and thorns. That we may become good soil, that if we become good soil, not only will give us bread for today, he will give us bread for tomorrow.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.