“Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”
How many of us have heard this gospel story before? … Anyone heard it more times than we can count?
This miracle of Jesus’, the feeding of the five thousand, must have been very important. It is so memorable, so re – mark – able, that each of the gospel writers included it in his gospel – Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John each tell about this feeding. In fact, it is the only miracle recorded in some fashion or variation in all four gospels. Matthew and Mark tell the story twice. So many retellings let us know that we are supposed to remember this story. No wonder we have heard it before!
Our early church participants especially liked this “feeding” miracle story because of its Eucharistic tone. We can hear it: “Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to the people.” Jesus took, broke, and gave … in our Eucharistic prayers, we add bless, from the Last Supper: Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave. This miracle reminds us of what Jesus commands us to do in the Eucharist. Take, eat. Then “gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”
Sometimes a story is SO familiar that we do not really listen to it. Our minds say “feeding of the five thousand” and we fade back to the thoughts that are swirling in our brains. Feeding of the five thousand – Got it. Next…. But we do not always remember very well. For example, the number five thousand in this story does NOT include women and children, so the crowd is much larger than five thousand; in fact, we do not know how many people are there. Remember that it is A LOT of people, more than we can count; more, perhaps, than we can remember. The women and children are fragments, the pieces left over, in this miracle. “Gather up the fragments leftover so that nothing may be lost.” Even though the women and children are not numbered in this story does not mean that they do not count. They are there, and Jesus tells us to gather them up. Nothing and no one is too insignificant for the miracle that Jesus provides. Do not lose even a crumb of what is offered. Jesus’ precious gift is in, and is for, what we think of as a tiny crumb.
How many of us remember that John ties the feeding of the five thousand with Jesus’ miracle of walking on water? It is hard to understand why there is such an abrupt transition to a second miracle. We remember the first and have this fragment – no less astounding – sort of left over. It is a little surprising to find these two miracles side by side. … What is happening is that John is revealing to us the divine side of Jesus. Such stories are called theophanies – they reveal to us Jesus’ divinity. “Theo” for God. Jesus is NOT the man who would be the peoples’ king; Jesus specifically flees from that; Jesus IS divine and human. In the midst of a human life and a human progression to Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed to us as divine. This is Immanuel, God-with-us, revealed in an unforgettable “theophany.” This second story is not leftover at all. It is a story that reinforces the divine nature of Jesus: he performs miracles of healing, of feeding, and he even walks on water.
What about those pieces that ARE left over? I worry sometimes that we have people who are leftover in a world in which there are almost too many people to count. How do we, can we, gather up the “fragments leftover?” There are people we know who believe in God, profess that they are Christians, and do not come to church. We know others who are fearful of coming to church. Perhaps we have scared them away in the past: God seems too big, too menacing, to face. A God like that is hard to see. But God who sits with people on the grass and eats common food, gathers up the leftover crumbs – that is a God who understands us.
Perhaps the fears have nothing to do with God and everything to do with ourselves. There are parts of ourselves that we cannot face. There have been a few times in my life when I have been so ashamed of my life, of a situation that I could not share it with a single human being. At such desperate times I have found myself sitting or kneeling or prostrate at the steps of the altar telling my story to God. It is scary to write about it, to reveal such times, even today. “Gather up the fragments leftover so that nothing may be lost.” God gathered me up on those days, and God will gather you into God’s arms, too. I was not a fragment, but God’s beloved child. We are each that important to God. We are God’s children. You are God’s beloved, precious, child, and I am, too. I want us to gather up those who do not know that, those who know it and still cannot find their way to accept the wide and loving arms of God’s grace. There are others who are not even aware that there is one God, and God loves them, too. Let’s gather up the ones who do not know God.
Remember today that we are doing more than hearing bible stories. We are witnessing miracles. God loves us SO much that God wants us to remember the miracle of Jesus, the feeding and the love that is poured out upon us. We are fed to overflowing. Miracle is layered upon miracle, and we are supposed to remember them. Remember how we are fed at the Table, out in the world, and even in the midst of chaos.
Then “gather up the fragments leftover so that nothing may be lost.”