Have you noticed over the past several weeks as we’ve been reading through the Gospel of Mark,that most everything in Jesus’ ministry revolves around healing? There are stories about Jesus healing people – and within these stories there are other stories about him healing other people. Then when Jesus sends out his disciples, he tells them to cast out demons, and anoint the sick, and heal them. And even when Jesus is back in his hometown home and can’t do his usual signs of power, he still heals sick people. All this healing – is it only Mark that happens to focus on it?
It’s true that each Gospel has a different perspective, and in Mark, Jesus does a lot of casting out demons and healing the sick. But today we shift from the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John– so we have a different perspective. And notice how this lesson in the Gospel of John begins: We learn that “A large crowd was following Jesus, because of the signs that he was doing for the sick.” Yes, Jesus heals, in all the Gospels. Healing is what the Good News is all about.
Actually, when we talk about salvation – when we say that “Jesus saves” – what we really mean is that Jesus heals. He heals body, mind and spirit . . . Jesus heals broken relationships and he reconciles divided groups of people. Jesus restores brokenness to wholeness.
And those demons that Jesus casts out? Those are the injuries and the illness and the addictions that we often don’t want to take responsibility for, that we can’t control without help. Demons are illnesses of our whole body-mind-spirit system, and they take on a life of their own. But Jesus has the power to cast them out . . .
In today’s story in the Gospel of John, a huge group of people comes around the Sea of Galilee to catch up with Jesus – and they’re looking for healing. Jesus is standing up on the hillside next to Philip. They see the crowd coming from quite a way off. Jesus knows that what they want is healing — they’re really not expecting a picnic!
But Jesus’ sense of compassion and hospitality begins to kick in. Jesus nudges Philip, and says, “How are we going to feed all these people?” Philip’s mind begins to spin, and he calculates the cost: Two hundred denarii (that’s about six months wages). But even that wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for this group. So . . . buying bread? Not a rational solution to the problem.
Andrew takes another approach: Here’s what we have, a couple of fish and five loaves of bread. “But what is that among so many people?” So this isn’t a rational solution to the problem either . . . But then Jesus isn’t asking for a rational solution.
Both Philip and Andrew are overcome by the size of the problem. They see it as a problem that they need to solve using their own resources. But Jesus has something else in mind.
The crowd sits down . . . and then Jesus takes the loaves of bread . . . and he gives thanks. Jesus takes what they have, and he gives thanks to God for those five loaves and those two fish, not for the ones that they don’t have or wish they might have.
Here is the pivotal point in this story, the thanksgiving.
Then Jesus distributes the bread and the fish to the people. Now the story we read becomes a miracle, a sign. Jesus is generous and God is generous. Everyone is fed – abundantly – with twelve baskets left over!
Jesus heals them all with food for body and soul. And here this miracle also becomes a sacrament: The outward and visible signs of bread and fish become the inward and spiritual grace of nourishment and healing.
But this group of 5000 sees it differently. When they see Jesus miraculously healing and feeding, it looks like power. The people want to capture Jesus’ power and make him king. But this is not what the bread and the fish are about – it’s not what any of the healing is about . . . And Jesus is able to slip away. . .
And now, this is how the story ends: The disciples get in a boat . . . and soon, they find themselves in a storm. They are very afraid . Then they see Jesus walking on the water, and he says, “It is I, do not be afraid.” They want to grab him into the boat, but right then they find they have reached solid land, the place they are headed for.
About ten years ago, I came back to the church for the first time in more than thirty years. I had grown up in the Methodist Church. But then I went off to college: I was on my own and life got much more complicated and bus. I was exploring new ways of living, new ways of thinking. And then I found myself on a career path that consumed pretty much all my attention and energy.
As musicians and in our business, my husband Dave and I worked very closely together. We lived a wonderful, successful and joyous life together for about thirty years. But when Dave died very suddenly in 2004, my life – my whole world was shattered. I was alone – broken and hurting. I was afraid . . .
That’s when I found Jesus – or was it that he reached out and found me? This is when I found refuge in the church; I found stability and safety in the church, a place “to ride out the storm.”
During that period of grieving and healing, I was in a loving place where I began to connect with God. And I connected with an inner spiritual center; my energy and heart were realigned with a truth much deeper and more profound than I’d ever known before.
And week after week I was fed and nourished – physically and spiritually fed and healed “with the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. . .”
Two thousand years ago on the shores of the Sea of Galilee a miracle happened when Jesus fed 5000 people with the meager offerings of a couple of fish and a few loaves. . .
Ten years ago a miracle happened when I first received the “Bread of Life” at the altar rail. . .
The Good News today is that this miracle is freely offered to us all– repeatedly – whenever we gather here – when bread is taken, blessed, broken and given in Christ’s name . . .
And so today – Let us be generous . . . let us be unafraid . . . and let us give thanks together at the Lord’s table.