2nd Week of Easter (F): Acts 5.34-42 and John 6.1-15
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation
Here Jesus turns the disciples doubt around and shows them how a little faith can manifest God’s abundance. It’s a miracle. They share a stingy meal with a vast crowd and even have leftovers that need collecting. Variously, this gospel story is repeated as either a “divine-miracle” or as a “social-miracle.” That is, the story is interpreted either in terms of BAM! fishes and loaves appear out of thin air at Christ’s blessing—a miracle defying natural law; or in terms of the willingness of the little boy to share his meager lunch and thereby inspiring others to bring our their lunches and feed themselves—a miracle of charity and generosity. Now, we can spend a lot of time arguing about which interpretation is more faithful to the gospel text. I don’t think it much matters to be honest. The much most intriguing moment in this story isn’t a miracle of any kind. When lunch was done, Jesus said to the disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted. And so they collected them…”
Is he talking about bread here? Yes. And no. Ever practical, Jesus didn’t want to waste any good food. There were many more crowds to feed down the road. But we also know that any time Jesus speaks to the disciples directly, he is teaching them. What’s the lesson here? We know this is a lesson b/c the gospel says that Jesus framed this event as a “test” for his students. The problem? How to feed 5,000 people on almost nothing? No. The problem is: how to feed all of creation for all time on one man’s Body and Blood? The whole event of feeding the 5,000 is the answer Jesus seeks. This lesson isn’t about Jesus’ “magical powers” nor is it about his “ethical affect” on others. This lesson is about showing the disciples the path to suffering and death and eternal life. And showing them all those welcomed to follow him.
Notice: the people gather to hear the Word proclaimed and preached. To see Jesus heal the sick. When he sees the crowd, he wants to feed them. He turns to his disciples and asks a perfectly reasonable question: can we afford to feed this many with what we have? Philip, avoiding the question, anxiously notes that even if they spent the wages earned over 200 days, they wouldn’t have enough food. Andrew, hearing at least one of the questions, pushes forward a boy with food, but gloomily notes that his food won’t be enough for the crowd. Can’t you hear and see Jesus give a Simon Cowel sigh and a roll of the eyes!? At this late date, they still don’t get it!
We have in Philip one who can only see scarcity in possibility. In Andrew, we have one who sees scarcity in manifest abundance. Jesus doesn’t berate them. He teaches them: “Have the people recline.” In other words, have the people prepare to feast. And they do. And afterward Jesus tells his disciples to pay attention to the excesses of the feast, what’s leftover, the abundant remainder of what they could only see as scarcity. Of course, Jesus is pointing them to the Church—the hungry, the welcomed, the blessed, the fed, and everything leftover; nothing, no one to be wasted but rather gathered into the Twelve Baskets—gathered in the Father’s covenant with His people.
When you look at the Church gathered in a crowd, standing before Jesus—hungry, cold, desperate for a teacher and preacher of Truth—do you see: Abundance? Scarcity? Leftovers worth keeping? Fragments best left scattered? Do you see in front of you work, blessing, joy, frustration, maybe exhaustion? Do you see a broken miracle? Or a well-made wreck? Do you see Christ staring back at Christ?
Nevermind. There’s work to be done. Start collecting crumbs and scraps, bits of fish and cups of wine. Whatever belongs in the basket, put it there. This party’s just getting’ started!