Nourishment for the soul

July 25, 2021

John 6:1-21

The possibility of going into space has captivated humanity for decades, if not centuries. Only 600 people or so have had the opportunity and it leaves the rest of us with questions. What does it look like to view the earth sixty+ miles above the planet we call home? What does weightlessness feel like? Imagine the stories we would have to share with our families.

And believe it or not, this could all be yours if you had millions of dollars!

Over the past week we have had the opportunity to watch two commercial spacecrafts ascend into space for a few minutes of sights, only seen by a very few select people. You thought a helicopter ride at Good Old Days was exciting, just wait until you will not have to go far to catch a quick excursion to space.

As exciting as this sounds, it does not come without scrutiny. You have two billionaires, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos (the richest person in the world), spending exorbitant amounts of money to achieve their childhood dreams. Well, if you have the money, why not? When we have 1 in nearly 6 children hungry in the United States, is space exploration going to combat childhood hunger? And this is just one of numerous ways people have suggested is better use for the money spent in research and development. Branson and Bezos clearly have an abundance of money and as we encounter our gospel lesson today, we can question whether they utilized their abundance for the greater good.

Today we begin an excursion into the gospel of John over the next five weeks. This is known as the Bread of Life series because Jesus makes several references throughout chapter 6 of him being the bread of life. We have two stories today in which Jesus performs signs, which point to his divinity and relation to God. The first sign comes in the form of Jesus feeding the 5000. The second sign finds Jesus walking on the water towards the disciples in their boat.

The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is the only story found in each of the four gospels. Details may be slightly different in other gospels, but this story is shared by all four gospel writers. It is a story that the people of Palestine could recognize. In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we hear of Elisha feeding 100 men with minimal provisions. The story of Moses may also come to mind for those listening to Jesus as manna was provided in the wilderness and they ate to their fill.

In John’s sharing of this story, we have 5000 who have come to listen and be healed by Jesus. It is getting near supper time, and they must be hungry. I do question if there are other reasons they may have been so hungry. It was not uncommon for those in power to withhold food from the people as a sign of their power and authority. The rulers did not want them to forget who fed them and provided them their daily bread.

The entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry is to turn the current system upside down. Jesus knows the plan for the 5000 and he has yet to inform the disciples. This leaves them scrambling. How can we feed so many people? And yet, here is a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. This is probably everything the boy has and yet with these provisions, Jesus will feed the entire gathered crowd. I think this is why we read this story in all four gospels. It is important to recognize Jesus’ power over the current rulers. It is important to know Jesus has compassion for all of creation.

Out of these five loaves and two fish Jesus reveals the abundance of God once again. An abundance revealed by God in the wilderness as Moses led the people of Israel, and an abundance revealed by Elisha as he fed 100 men. All hungry people. All looking for something more. Whether it be literal food, or the spiritual connection with a loving creator. There is such an abundance that there are 12 baskets remaining after all are fed.

Do you know what it means to be hungry? In the literal sense, not too many of us do in the western world. All we must do is go to the grocery store and get what we need. If we cannot afford it, food pantries are available. Yet, we still manage to let people go hungry. Nearly 1 in 6 children! I pray power is not being used to withhold the basic necessities of life to people in our time, but I am afraid it is.

When we look beyond the literal hunger, there is a hunger within each of us for something greater, a deeper connection with the divine. Jesus is our connection. Jesus comes with the promise that he is the bread of life and through him we will be fed. It is easy to bake our own bread though as we place our desire in worldly things. Jesus reminds us that he is enough. Jesus is nourishment for the soul in a way that none of those worldly possessions will feed us. True abundance is found in Jesus Christ and in this abundance, we are called into a deeper relationship with creation.

So, where does that leave us with the abundance found in others. For one thing, it is not our concern because we are not called to judge. Yet, we can pray that those with great abundance may pay their employees a living wage. We pray they may reach out to make their communities and world a better place. In a way this new space exploration may eventually lead to better communities as costs are lowered and more is discovered about our place in the universe. I will admit Jeff Bezos did attempt to address some of the scrutiny after his excursion to space. He donated $100 million each to two individuals to use how they see fit. What a blessing this is and may it be a small first step in sharing our abundance. An abundance which was originally shared by Jesus Christ.

Our journey with Jesus is never complete. He leaves the people in awe after they are fed and well nourished. He too feeds us and nourishes our hungry souls. We find him in the bread served during communion. We find him poured out in the wine and quenches our thirst. It is in this mystery we are invited to the table to sit and join in fellowship and community with our siblings. It is at the table where love is made known and we are encouraged to get up and take it out into our communities. It is a love that feeds the hungry crowds. It is a love that turns no one away. It is a love in which we are bold enough to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.[i] So it is at the table where we are invited to encounter an abundant love which knows no bounds. A love which welcomes us into the mystery, and we are fed. A love which calls us out to do the same.

[i] William H. Lamar, IV, “Chasing Jesus,” The Christian Century, 2003.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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