What would the world look like if each of us came forward when there was a need with our five barley loaves and a couple of fish? I am sure that Jesus could have fed the crowd out of nothing, kind of like when manna fell from the sky to feed the traveling Israelites. But that is not how this story goes.
In each of the four gospels, there are six accounts of Jesus feeding thousands of people with just a few loaves and a few fish. The stories are almost identical in every way. Johnâ€™s version of the story we just heard however, makes special mention of a small boy who has come to offer five barley loaves and two fish. Five barley loaves and two fish was a huge meal for a very poor family and this boy was most certainly offering his familyâ€™s entire supply of food. I am not sure what this little boy was thinking or what his family was thinking giving away all they had to help solve a problem that couldnâ€™t possibly have been solved with their offering. But they did it anyway. Their faith allowed them to overlook the impossibility of their situation hoping instead in the compassion and mercy of Jesus. They must have been inspired by Jesusâ€™ love for others.
The mention of this little boy is significant because in a way, it takes you and I and makes us an integral part of this story. We arenâ€™t just simply part of the large crowd being fed anymore. Now we have two roles to play: recipients of Godâ€™s goodness and grace, but also active disciples using our hands to do Godâ€™s work in the world.
The mention of this little boy and his offering is significant because God took the sacrifice of this poor family, of this poor boy, and fed thousands and thousands of people with plenty left over. Most of the disciples thought the situation was at an impasse, there simply was no way to feed this many people from such a meager amount of food. But God took what was impossible for humans and made it possible. God took this poor familyâ€™s sacrifice and made it into a meal that all could share. And this is how you and I are integral to this story. We can insert ourselves into this act of love, of compassion, of mercy, we are hands doing Godâ€™s good work.
Like the little boy, from whose small hands came the tremendous sacrifice of his familyâ€™s food, our sacrifices on behalf of others, in whatever form they take, make a difference, we may not always understand how, but God tells us not to be afraid, to trust, to believe, to witness Godâ€™s love and compassion for all creation.
As some of you may know, the motto of the ELCA is â€śGodâ€™s work, our hands.â€ť And from June 18 to June 22, 35,000 pairs of hands were in New Orleans doing Godâ€™s work of compassion, healing, and restoration. Every three years the ELCA has a Youth Gathering and teenagers from all over the country come together to celebrate their love for God and participate in mission work to help others. This was their second time to New Orleans and over the course of their time there they were spread out across the city engaging in projects from repairing damaged high schools to cleaning up parks and wetlands. They were part of 400 service projects to benefit those in most need in New Orleans.
And at the end of the event, it was announced that these same teenagers had helped to raise over $400,000 dollars towards the ELCAâ€™s clean water campaign. With this money hundreds of thousands of people will receive clean water in underdeveloped countries for years to come.
Awkward teenagers seem like unlikely partners to do Godâ€™s work in this world. A small poor boy with a meager meal seems like an unlikely partner to feed thousands of people. And we might think that we are unlikely partners. The little boy sacrificed all he had, all his family had. These teenagers sacrificed their summers to work for good and look at what God did with all of their sacrifices. We may think we have so little to offer, that what we can contribute is not likely to make any difference. I can assure you that I struggle with this too.
But the needs of this world do not go unanswered. The crowds follow Jesus because they desperately need him. They need healing, they need consolation, they need hope. And they need food. And Jesus doesnâ€™t hold anything back from them.
These feeding stories parallel the story of Jesus as our Eucharistic meal. In each of these stories Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks for it, brakes it, and gives it to all who are hungry and have come to eat. Jesus does the same as he offers his body to us in the Eucharist. He gives us his very flesh and shows us that his body is meant for all.
God shows us that our work is not in vain, that our small hands doing Godâ€™s great work in this world will not fail. God renews creation, heals, restores, and feeds through each and every one of us. What would the world look like if when there was a need, we showed up with five barley loaves and two fish?