September 30, 2010
Rev. Stacy Swain “Is There Really Enough?”
Genesis 41: 14-36
There is something about the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 that I find curious. If it is meant to be a miracle story about Jesus, about how as the Son of God transformed five loaves and two fish into such abundance, why does Jesus tell the disciples to give the crowd something to eat? If the miracle is that Jesus is going to multiply the loaves, why doesn’t he tell the disciples “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” Why does he instead tell them “You give them something to eat?”
Well I can think of two possible explanations. The first is that perhaps Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd (even after they tell him they cannot) as a kind of dramatic tension builder, setting the stage as it were for the miracle that he was about to perform. Kind of like using the powerlessness of the disciples as a foil for his own power. What better way of heightening the impact of the miracle than by highlighting the impossibility of the situation.
The only trouble with this explanation is that it really does not sound like the Jesus I know. Jesus is certainly capable of taking those five loaves and two fish and of multiplying them single handedly into unfathomable abundance. But, if we remember the changing of the wine into water at the wedding of Cana, Jesus tends not to use miracles to draw attention to himself. Instead Jesus uses miracles to point to God and to reveal that kingdom of God has drawn near. Miracles, for Jesus are not self aggrandizing acts of showmanship. They are revelatory moment of what can be.
So that leaves me with the other explanation as to why Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowd themselves when they had just told Jesus it was impossible to do so. What if the miracle that Jesus performed that day was not that of pulling loaves and fishes out of thin air, but instead of sparking the imaginations of the disciples so that they could see beyond perceived limitations to what really could be. Perhaps the reason Jesus said “You give them something to eat” is because he actually knows that they could do so, even if they don’t think so. Jesus tells them to “give them something to eat” because he can see that it is indeed possible for them to do so .
This way of seeing what others cannot see is what John Paul Lederach, the Mennonite theologian and peace maker calls the Moral Imagination. John Paul Lederach and a team of his colleagues are peace makers that are called into most desperate and intractable conflicts around the globe and work on peace making. Lederach goes into what seem like impossible situations and creates space for people to engage their moral imaginations so that previously unseen possibilities of peace building can be envisioned. Lederach defines moral imagination “as the capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist.”[i]
This moral imagination, this “interpreting of dreams” was Joseph’s gift. He could see in a way others could not. He could see in Pharaoh’s dream a vision for what needed to be done to keep the people from staving. And what I love about Joseph is that not only can he interpret the dream and articulate the vision it revealed of the future but that he also rolls up his sleeves and bring make the vision a reality. Pharaoh is so inspired by how Joseph sees things that he places Joseph in command of the land. And so Joseph spends the next seven years storing up and then distributing grain keeping the Egyptians fed and as it turns out saving his own Hebrew people from famine.
I would imagine that many in Joseph’s day thought it a miracle that Egypt was saved from starvation but the text points out that the miracle was really Joseph’s divinely inspired imagination that enabled him to interpret and act in life giving ways. Perhaps it is the same for the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Perhaps the miracle lies is not so much that people were fed but that Jesus showed the disciples a divinely inspired way of doing so. For what happens next in the story is not that there is a great clap of thunder and loaves and fishes suddenly appear. Instead what Jesus does is instruct the people to sit down in groups of fifty. Why? The Gospel of John’s account of the feeding of the 5000 tells us that the five loaves and two fish come from a boy standing nearby. What if there were others in the crowd that had a little something as well tucked inside their traveling cloaks, what if by having the great crowd sit down together in groups of fifty, Jesus was creating an opportunity for people to gather in community and share the little they had. And all were fed and there was enough left over to fill 12 baskets.
Now this is a church that knows what it is to bring abundance out of perceived scarcity. You faced a staggering situation of having to raise $500,000 dollars in the capital campaign, but instead of saying that that was simply impossible, you came together as a community and began to imagine. Each person gave what they had and here we are now with an accessible building, an soaring music from our organ and piano and the chance to discern new opportunities for mission.
But, staying in this place of creative, imaginative visioning is very difficult in a world that does its very best to convince us that there is not enough, that things cannot change, that if it were possible to solve the huge problems of our time, they would have been solved already. We are led to believe that there will always be hunger, war, poverty, violence – that’s just the way things are. And we can easily sucked into this thinking until all that we see is limitation and scarcity. We succumb and find that we no longer can imagine that work could be fulfilling. Or that relationships really could be life giving. Or that a home really could be full of joy. We think, “well I guess this is just the way it is” and then we just hunker down and endure.
When that happens, let’s remember Joseph, let’s remember the loaves and fishes. Let’s run straight over to our Bibles, throw open the Gospels and hear over and over again how Jesus Christ would not and will not let perceived limitations, limit what can be. Whether it be on that hillside with that hungry crowd or in the morning light of the empty tomb, Jesus draws us into a new future where what is possible is defined by God not us. So let us be filled with Holy imagination, let us be lit with Holy vision so that we may see what can be and then join with God in making it so. “They all ate and were satisfied.” Let us ask Jesus to help us imagine what that looks like in our time and then set off, with the grace of God, making it so. Amen.
[i] John Paul Lederach. The Moral Imaginatin, The Art and Soul of Building Peace.(Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2005). P. 29