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2 Kings 4:42–44 | Ephesians 3:14–21 | John 6:1–21
Children: Sprout, plant: Paul to the Ephesians- “rooted and grounded in love.”
John 6 - 5 bread readings. You Are Enough (5,000), You Have Enough (“I Am”), Jesus Is Enough (“I Am”), Jesus Gives Enough (Food and Drink), The World Receives Enough (Eternal Life). (Augmented by the Old Testament readings and letters: Elisha feeds 100, Manna, Elijah fed, Wisdom’s Feast, Joshua and serve the Lord.)
If you are a fan of Italian food, you’ve probably had that experience of the waitress or waiter standing by your shoulder with the parmesan cheese and grinder, asking if you’d like some on your salad or pasta—and then it’s up to you to say “when” is enough. As a fan of cheese, I’m inclined to let it go for a while; but for the sake of good etiquette, I usually say “when” exactly when everyone else does: Like at a count of 4 or so. It’s easier with the pepper: I don’t want too much overpowering the flavor of my food.
These questions: When is enough? What does it mean to be and have enough? What even IS enough? come up in the course of our readings through the end of August with John chapter 6 and all that Jesus says about bread.
So, of course, I started by looking closer at this word, enough (archaeo in Greek) which is pretty straightforward: It means what’s sufficient, adequate in amount or number (Gk esp.). We could nuance enough to being what is merely acceptable or passable in the least- like having enough food and water while backpacking to fuel my body to the end of the trail and no more; OR being enough can imply what is ample or abundant- perhaps because we like to be over-prepared, say, when we have guests over for a meal. However we think about this word, enough is a pretty important concept for us who are indoctrinated by marketing to think that I don’t have enough; and that there isn’t enough. And finally, that I am not enough. There might be some adaptive and even creative ideas and actions that come out of these fears: But because we tend not to know when to say “it IS enough,” we are likely also to experience despair.
Jesus steps right into this fear today by asking the disciple, Phillip, (who we don’t hear much about in general) about the crowd following him on account of the signs he is doing for the sick: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” The problem is not where, it is clear, but how. Phillip gets the conversation back on track: Uh, there isn’t enough money. And it wouldn’t be enough food. Which is a perfect set-up for what—in the words of my recent favorite novelists, Niall Williams says—“[It] didn’t seem.. likely… but in my experience, likely is not in God’s lexicon.” (Or dictionary.) In fact, it’s the unlikeliness of the situation that sets up a challenge to the common wisdom of “not enough.”
For sure, hunger is real. It is no light thing that people need to eat, like those following Jesus around. And there is not always enough food for everyone everywhere. Jesus doesn’t offer an ongoing, magic fix for this basic human need (except later to say that we become this life as well.) And there is also the need for more than just food in order to truly live paired with the not enough craving and consequent actions to secure and acquire- no matter the cost to ourselves or others. Which is often settled by knowing that we are enough. And so this week I want to look at the feeding of the 5,000 through the lens of what it reveals about God’s mind in Jesus toward the hungry crowd; that is being enough.
First, I want to note that there is a vulnerability in feeling hungry—whether for food, or relationship, or whatever we truly need. Rather than feel this hunger and the uncertainty and maybe weakness, people tend to go home and not seek Jesus; not feel worthy; hide out from being fed. Ironically, as much as we long to be fed, we also long to avoid knowing we are in need. And as long as we can keep running after other things and ideas that make us feel better on the outside, perhaps we can stave off feelings of vulnerability. As Brené Brown—sociologist and researcher—says, however—vulnerability is “the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave; the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. (Daring Greatly p. 34) Instead of simply staving off hunger again, here we have opportunity to feel empty and to be fed: To have re-affirmed that Jesus would choose to nourish us.
A few hundred years before Jesus, the prophet Elisha is faced a “mere” 100 people and more food—but also with the element of unlikely. Elisha says to his aid, “Give [the bread] to the people and let them eat.” And the reply of not enough: “How can I set this before a hundred people?” Elisha insists, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ ” Enough indeed. In this reading, it’s clear that the point is the people. The nourishment of God’s creatures is a priority. It doesn’t wait for people to be perfect or even to try hard it enough. It starts by saying, “You are enough.” Which is what we need to be brave and enough to be vulnerable—and to make a difference in the world. (We’ll talk about that more in week 5 on John 6.) In the gospel of John, Jesus passes out the five loaves and two fish; a kind of last-supper intimacy. And we hear that the people are “satisfied.”
That is—unlikely thought it seems—there has been enough for you! There will be enough—even if we feel hungry at times. Even if we lose things and people and relationships; and feel all kinds of difficult things: The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is more than just a way to get food into people; or a way to “wow” them into believing something. It is, as all the miracles in John are called, a sign; that shares information and invites us to sit down in the middle of a field for an unlikely meal with no price or requirement; to be nourished; and that we might really know our worth in the eyes of God—along with all of creation. Thanks be to God. Amen.