Bread & Fish: How Jesus Feeds Us

  • September 7, 2021

A sermon on Mark 6:31-44, 8:1-10 for September 5th, 2021 from the Rev. Hannah Brown

Jesus likes to host dinner parties. But he isn’t your average host.

If you’ve hosted a party before, or watched someone do it, you know that hosting a dinner party can be a lot of work. You choose a date and a location, maybe a theme. You plan a guest list and send out invitations. You decide on a menu, and buy and prepare a meal. You may need to do some cleaning, or decide to decorate. You might dress up, play some music, or light some candles.

Jesus likes to host dinner parties. But he doesn’t do any of these things. In our scriptures today, we hear two different stories of Jesus hosting a meal. Both times, the party happens with absolutely zero prior planning. And the date, the time, and the place are not only unplanned; they are really inconvenient.  Not only that, but the guest list is enormous. These stories are known as the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand, but these numbers only include adult men. They were the only ones biblical writers recorded. So if you count the women and children that we know were also there, we’re talking upwards of 10,000 unexpected dinner guests.

So — it’s not surprising that the disciples hesitate. “What about the budget?” they wonder. “What about the supplies?”.  They only have a little food, probably whatever they packed for themselves: Five loaves of bread, and two fish; seven loaves of bread, and a few small fish. It doesn’t sound like enough to satisfy Jesus and the disciples, let alone thousands and thousands and thousands of other people.

But Jesus isn’t worried. He just tells everyone to sit down, right where they are. He blesses and breaks the bread and the fish, and he tells the disciples to pass them around. You probably know what happens next. Everyone eats, and not only that, they are filled. And even after they are filled, there are still baskets full of broken pieces of bread and fish left over.

How does this happen?  People have opinions. There are two main camps.  Some folks say: God made a miracle! God multiplied the scant resources that were there. Other folks say: the people are the miracle!  Enough people were able to share what they had as the basket went by, that no one went hungry.

Maybe you have a favorite explanation out of these two.  If so, great. I also wonder: couldn’t both be true?

Bread and fish both have important meanings in Christian tradition.  Bread is a staple food among the peoples who wrote our bible. And it’s what Jesus blesses, and breaks, at the last supper, when he teaches his disciples that he will be present with them in a new way after his death, whenever they eat together in his name.  

Fish show up in all kinds of ways, both in our scriptures and in the early church.  Jesus tells his disciples they will fish for people. Jesus grills some fish on a beach for a special breakfast for the disciples after his death and resurrection. The fish is also sometimes called the sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of a great fish, and it has become for many Christians a symbol of the resurrection. 

After Jesus’ death, Christians began to use a simple symbol of a fish, with two curving lines.  Maybe you’ve seen this shape on the back of a car. Some folks think it helped followers of Jesus recognize one another. If you wanted to know if someone you met was a follower of Jesus, you could make the first arc of the fish shape in the dirt. The other person would complete the shape.  Then you knew you were in the company of another member of what was then an underground movement. You were in community.

Too often, we get stuck in situations where it just doesn’t seem like there’s enough to go around. If you crunch the numbers; if you evaluate what’s on hand, there’s no way that what you have will meet the needs that exist.  There’s a lack of money; a lack of resources; a lack of time; a lack of emotional capacity; there’s just no way to make it work. These situations are real, and they’re hard, and too often, they are created by prejudice and the desire for profit.  

And, sometimes we can still find a way to meet the needs that emerge.  It helps, if we take a Jesus kind of party planning approach.  If we decide to forget about etiquette, and expectations. If we throw out the spreadsheet, and the menu.  If we realize there never should have been a guest list at all.  If we invite the power of God’s blessing and the power of holy community to meet hungry people, whenever we find them, whenever we are them.  All we really need is bread: the presence of God among us.  All we really need is fish: the power of a community bound together.

God, sometimes there’s just not enough,
and people who tell us it will all be OK just make us angry.
Help us to know that you are with us, right where we are, just as we are.
Open our hearts to the possibilities you and your people produce:
Finding way after way after way out of no way;
Breaking apart bread and fish, as well as chains of injustice;
Filling hungry bellies, and aching hearts, until all are satisfied,
And there are baskets and baskets and baskets of extra
For whoever might show up later.
Thanks be to God. Amen.