When He Had Given Thanks – John 6:1-13

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?”  [John 6:9]

One night a man took a little small candle out of a drawer and lighted it, and began to ascend a long, winding stair.
“Where are you going?” said the small candle.
“Away high up,” said the man, “higher than the top of the house where we sleep.”
“And what are you going to do there?”
“I am going to show the ships out at sea where the harbor is,” said the man.  “For we stand here at the entrance to the harbor, and some ships far out on the stormy sea may be looking for our light even now.”
“Alas, no ship could see my light!” said the little small candle.  “It is so very small.”
“If your light is small,” said the man, “keep it burning bright, and leave the rest to me.”
Then he climbed the stairs to the top of the lighthouse – for this was a lighthouse they were in – and he took the little small candle and lighted the great lamps that stood ready there with their polished reflectors behind them.  And the light pierced the darkness.

“Alas, no ship could see my light!” said the little small candle.  “It is so very small.” “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?”  The thought is staggering – the task is so great and there just is not enough to go around: the little small candle does not have enough light, and the disciples do not have enough food to feed probably 20,000 men, women, and children.

Truly it is a feeling that we can identify with.  Jesus tells us that we ARE His witnesses – to the world!  and we are staggered.  The world is so large, society is so great, the task is so big; and we – we are so small, so minute against the billions of people that are out there.

You know that feeling of helplessness.  Just how do you make a stand against the injustices, against the outright sins and wrongs of today.  Already at school there are the subtle but very strong pressures to along with the rest of the crowd because it is easier than standing against them.  At the workplace, or repair shop, or in the coffee cloche it is easier to join in rather than to stand alone and awkward.  After all they are so many, and we are just so small.

We are so small and the world is so large, when you get moral values from every direction in the media that are against the Creator’s design as to what the human being should be about.  We are so small and the controlling powers are so big, when you want to fight against pervasive attitudes and philosophies that not only run counter to the Lord’s will, but also in the end dehumanize us all.  What are we, among so many?  “Alas, our light is so small.”

The event that St John records in the beginning of chapter 6 is more than just a good story about how Jesus could multiply a physical substance to feed 20,000 people.  It is more than a story of showing how Jesus has control over the necessities of life, such as food.  Rather it is the same story that God has shown throughout the ages – such as when God forces Gideon to cut his army down to a mere 300 men [Judges 7], and with such a puny force defeats a whole Assyrian horde.  It is a repeat of how time and again God would deliberately take what seems to be weak, frail, and small and use it powerfully.

God reminds us that He really does have power – after all He IS the Creator.  And in Jesus He has shown just how much control He has – why He can even control Himself.  Just think of the amazing evidence of Christmas where God did the impossible: the Creator becoming His own Creature; the Unlimited becoming the very limited Slave/Servant.  Look at the evidence of Easter, where God is at the weakest He could become – Jesus is DEAD – and yet He simply gets up and walks away from that grave.

No, the feeding of the 5000 is not merely a story about Jesus multiplying some food, but rather it is one more event that is part of a whole chain of demonstrations that God can do wonderful and powerful things through what seems to be so small.  In fact, God looks for what seems to be the smallest in order to do the greatest.

John tells this story with a bit of humor.  Jesus looks at the multitude of people coming to Him and, I believe with a twinkle in His eye, watching for the reaction, asks Philip, “how are we going to buy bread for them?”  As the realization dawns on Philip, you can just see his eyes grow wide: “200 days wages wouldn’t even buy enough to give them a wafer’s worth!”  Andrew chips in, “here’s a boy who wants to share his lunch – five barley loaves and two fish!  What a ridiculous amount when we have such a huge need!”

Imagine the scene:  The boy’s mother probably said, “if you are going to go out there to listen to Jesus, then you had better take a lunch!” and she threw together some items that should tide him over until he returned home.  The boy was getting hungry, but then he noticed something – he noticed that Jesus didn’t seem to have a lunch.  Kids are like that, they will share with someone who is important to them.  They don’t think about how they will have less.  They don’t think about how they just might get pretty hungry before the day is over.  They simply will share.

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But Jesus has everyone sit down, then He takes these very loaves and give thanks. This is not a mere common table prayer that often is recited without thinking about it; no, He actually is really thanking His Father for them.  Everyone is faced with an impossibly extraordinary need, meanwhile Jesus takes this little piddling amount and is genuinely grateful – He gives thanks for these loaves.

Surprisingly, this prayer is actually a key pivot of the occasion!  Twelve verses later, the location is referred to, not as where Jesus fed the five thousand, rather it is referred to as “the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”

Now, if Jesus is going to pray at all, one might expect a petition, sort of like, “Father, we really need more than this, could you send more?”  But it is not a petition that is emphasized, but rather thanks.  Can you catch the amazement in the faces of the disciples?  How can you give thanks for something so woefully inadequate, something so paltry in the face of an impossible need, something so insignificant when the need is so desperate?

I suspect that the disciples’ reaction is an all too familiar territory for us.  We are very conscious of the great and overwhelming needs around us, especially in regard to spiritual matters.  Everywhere that we turn in our society is the erosion of Christian values and morals.  More and more in movies, songs, articles and in other things, there is a definition of life that not only has nothing to do with God but sometimes deliberately mocks the Christian outlook.

Within our own lives, we just seem to be so insignificant.  The corner we live in is so small, our voice so overwhelmed, our actions so ignored.  What could God ever do with something as trifling as us?  In the words of  the anonymous “Prayer of Breton fishermen”: “O God, the sea is so great, and my boat is so small.”

But notice that after Jesus gives thanks, He breaks up the bread and starts handing it out.  Now it may have been that the whole miracle of the multiplication of loaves happens right under Jesus’ hands, but probably not. Likely some multiplication does occur here, but then as they handed out the pieces of bread the disciples are amazed when there just seems to be a lot more in their hands than they had thought.  And as people tore some off for themselves and handed the bread onward, that it went much farther down the line than anybody would have expected.  Then finally, there were twelve baskets left over.

I like to think that it occurred that way, because this is what can happen in our own lives.  We share something that is special in regard to the Lord, because He is important to us, just like Jesus is important to that boy.  When we have that kind of gratefulness that can even give thanks for what seems so small, even if it is only the opportunity to say a few words of God’s comfort to another person, or an act of kindness that reflects His love – these are the “few small loaves” that Jesus takes and multiplies.  It depends not upon long prayers with big words, it depends not upon a magnificent gift, but rather upon a truly thankful heart and the willingness to let the Lord have the control of the situation.

This is the “bread” that gets passed on, which the next person takes, which makes a difference in his or her life.  On and on our little gift gets passed down the line, multiplying as it goes, feeding as it goes.  If we were to realize how many people have been affected by our gifts, we probably would be as amazed as the boy had been, who only had started with five loaves and two fish and yet he watched thousands being fed.

Too often have we been like that little small candle that was willing to give up because its light was so small and the job was too big.  But we have come before the Lord today, confessing not only that we have excused ourselves for too long with the idea that we are too small, but also because we have undersold God and His power.  The real problem is that we really do not believe that God can do anything because we have judged the situation according to our power and find ourselves terribly lacking.  Instead of giving genuine thanks to the Lord, often we grumble and complain, we want the Lord to give us more, and then we collapse and cave in.

It is such an account as the Gospel for today that makes us come before the Lord in repentance, not only because we have not been the People of God He wants us to be, but because we have not let God be the God that He is.  We have robbed Him of His demonstration of His power and majesty, we have robbed Him of the glory and honor that He deserves.

Yet here in Holy Communion God comes back with a powerful demonstration of how He takes what is ordinary and puny – bread and wine – and fills them with an incalculable value and worth, and feeds His People not for a moment, but for an eternity.  Here the almighty, eternal, all-knowing, all-wise God joins Himself to weak, paltry, insignificant people like individual you and individual me and makes an immeasurable impact on people’s lives.  In this Sacrament, Jesus pours down upon us a whole wealth – of forgiveness, power, His presence, His life, His love – as He gives us HIS Bread, Himself.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Holy Communion starts with the call “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!” with its response “It is proper and right so to do,” and then ends with, “O, give thanks to the Lord for He is good!”  What a challenge, what a surprise awaits us when we see how far genuine thanksgiving will take us and our gifts!

It does not matter how big we are in this world, it does not matter how big our congregation is, how big our church body is – let us stop, not to focus on how small we are, but to truly be thankful for His gifts that surround us and also for us as His gift to those around us.  And then watch how He takes what we esteem as so puny and insignificant and multiplies it person by person.  We just may be surprised how in the end our gift has fed a multitude.

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