Saturday, 8 October 2011
Parable of the Loaves and Fish
Imagine for a moment that you're part of the crowd in the parable of the loaves and fish. You've been listening intently to Jesus' words all day. You've traveled a long distance. It's been a long day, you're tired and hungry, and you realize that you didn't bring anything to eat. Suddenly you realize that there is only one member of the crowd who HAS brought any food at all-a small boy who has only five loaves of bread and two fish. You and everyone else in the crowd have the same thought-namely, you wish that he would have brought enough food to share with everyone. Since he only has a small amount of food, what do you do?
Suddenly, you see Andrew the disciple standing beside the boy. You have heard Jesus tell his disciples to find food for the people. Andrew heeded the call, and told Jesus about the boy and his lunch. You also hear Jesus tell Andrew to bring the boy and his lunch to Him. You see Jesus take the food, bless it and give it to the crowd. After the meal, you see the disciples gather up the broken, leftover pieces---enough to fill twelve baskets.
This parable represents the word of God and how we receive it and act upon it in our daily lives. The small boy represents us as children of God, the loaves and fish represent what we offer to God, the blessing of the food represents how God uses what we offer, and the broken pieces represent the bountiful, spiritual food He offers in return.
You may recall another parable where the disciples tried to keep children from seeing Jesus, but were rebuked when He said, "Let the little children come to me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven". The small boy with the bread and fish represents us , the children of God. We come to Him like a child comes to a parent-naïve, but full of wonder, with an inquiring mind, and with few preconceived notions. God the father is like a school teacher-He teaches us what we need to know about faith, eternal life and our heavenly home.
God the teacher feeds our minds. He teaches us not only through His Word, but also through the priest, the celebrant, the organist and choir, the lesson readers-in fact, He teaches through EVERYONE who does his work in the church family. His teaching materials (teachings, laws, etc.) are never used up. In fact, they are multiplied because those of us who are taught by Him can go out and teach others. By doing so, we do our part to fulfill the Lord's Great Commission, namely "Go forth into the world and make disciples of all nations".
God accepts us for who we are, and in doing so accepts whatever we offer to Him in faith and thanksgiving. Our offering can be big or small. God doesn't care how much we offer, because He uses whatever we offer to do His work in our world and in our daily lives. Our weekly offerings are a good example. Most of what we offer goes to support the work of our own church family, but some of it is also used to support the work of our parish family. Some of it is also used to support the work of the church in our own Diocese, in our own nation, and throughout the world through both our Diocesan Allotment and our offerings to the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund.
God also doesn't care what we offer to Him, as He can use anything and everything we offer to Him in faith. Most people today give in the form of either money or donations of non-perishable food items for the local food bank, but that wasn't always so. Some of you might have heard stories about how in past years ministers were paid in the form of livestock, fruit or vegetables. Recently I read a story written by a minister in the United States about his experiences in a church in a Third World country. He wrote that on one particular Sunday the congregation arrived at the church and was greeted by three turkeys and a pig that were tied up outside the door. The previous week's sermon had been about tithing-giving one-tenth of your income to the church. The three turkeys and one pig represented one-tenth of the income of the farmer who gave them, but he gave them in faith because he knew that God's mission required resources to get it done. The boy who gave his lunch of loaves and fishes in our Gospel reading probably also knew that in order for God to feed the crowd spiritually, He needed to feed them physically, for without the resource called physical food, the crowd could not receive the spiritual food. The same idea applies to the Holy Eucharist, for it is through the physical food of the bread and wine that we receive the spiritual food Christ offers, just like the disciples did at the last Supper.
When God accepts our individual offerings, he blesses them and combines them with the offerings of fellow believers. He uses this combination to bless and multiply what He gives to his people in return. This is like the parable of the mustard seed-God takes something very small like our individual offerings, and makes it grow into something bigger and better-namely, faith in Him. The loaves and fish represent more than just physical food-they also represent the spiritual food and nourishment God offers us.
God is all-seeing, all knowing, and His love knows no limits. He shows his love by offering spiritual nourishment to His people. The spiritual nourishment is so vast that we can't absorb it all at once. There are always leftovers, just like there were leftovers that were gathered up in baskets by the disciples. Just like we need to eat physical food several times a day to live physically, we need to keep partaking of the spiritual nourishment in order for our faith to live. Our human inability to absorb every single item we are taught forces God to keep reminding us about His love and power, just as our human ability to ignore what He has to teach us forces Him to keep reminding us.
The sharing of the loaves and fishes also represents God sharing His wisdom and love with his children. The leftover food reminds us that God's love and wisdom overflow our mind and soul, as well as our capacity to absorb what He offers to us. Whatever overflows can still be absorbed by us, as long as we continue to seek His spiritual nourishment.
God doesn't offer spiritual food without requiring something from us in return. When He feeds us, He also asks us to nourish, teach, rule and lead others. He asks us to feed the multitudes by offering what we can. Our weekly offerings for the support of the church are a good example. As I mentioned earlier, these offerings support more than the work of Trinity Church. They also go toward the spiritual feeding of the church locally, in this Diocese, in this nation, and throughout the world. A more practical example is the offerings of non-perishable food items we offer each week for our local food bank. Since I am the person who looks after taking our donations to the local food bank every Monday morning, I have seen firsthand how our simple act of feeding the multitudes makes a difference in the lives of food bank clients.
As we distribute the spiritual food, it increases and fills the soul, much like the physical food of the loaves and fishes increased and fed the crowds who gathered to hear Jesus. There is an interesting parallel here involving the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is a physical representation of the distribution of the spiritual food God offers us. Just like the crowd received the physical food of the loaves and fishes in thanksgiving, we receive the food of bread and wine in thanksgiving for the spiritual food of our Lord's most precious body and blood when we come to Him in faith.
God always likes to know that we have faith in Him. When we don't show this faith openly, He asks us to prove that we have faith. That is why Jesus asked the disciples where they could find food for the crowd. He could have simply made manna rain down from heaven like He did for the Israelites after Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt, but He didn't. He knew that even the disciples couldn't understand everything He had taught both them and the crowd, but their understanding was caused not by ignorance, but by lack of faith. After all, they had been by His side for a long time and had heard His teachings and seen His miracles, whereas the crowd gathered to see Him that one time, much as we would gather to see a famous musician who might come to perform in a major city only once or twice in his entire career. When the small boy offered his meager lunch-a lunch that physically was only enough for that one small boy-his small offering in faith led to a bountiful harvest for the multitudes. Even a small amount of faith in Jesus leads to a bountiful harvest of spiritual food and blessings for His people. Jesus used the request for food to prove the old saying that "big things come in small packages".
In John 6:27, Jesus tells us to "Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the father, even God, hath sealed". What this tells us is that spiritual food is much more important than physical food. Spiritual food is key to the survival of our spiritual life, just like physical food is key to the survival of physical life. Spiritual food allows us to understand what God has in store for us, what He wants us to do in our lives, and what is in store for us in our heavenly home. God wants to give us this food because He loves us. All we have to do is come before Him in humility and faith.
Christ himself said "I am the Bread of Life". His doctrine is the word of eternal life, therefore we must live by it in order to have a spiritual life and believe in Him. We must always remember the words of the Prayer After Communion in the Book of Common Prayer-"Almighty God, We most heartily thank thee that thou dost graciously feed us in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, assuring us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us...".
Spiritual food is not limited to the Holy Eucharist and God's teachings. Weekly church services fill the void, especially at times where the Eucharist is not celebrated. We can't to come to church only a handful of times in our lives and expect that the small amount of spiritual food we receive at those times will sustain us forever. Just like we have to eat physical food several times a day in order to live, we need to receive spiritual food on a regular basis. That is why many of us attend services every week--because we need to hear and receive the spiritual food offered by regular worship. Those who attend church only on special occasions such as weddings funerals, baptisms, Christmas or Easter receive a small amount of spiritual nourishment, whereas those who attend church regularly and worship in sincere faith receive the honour of having a seat at the Head Table of God's Holy Feast.