Feeding the Multitude – Br. Eldridge Pendleton

2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21


Our worship of God finds its fullest expression in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  It is the offering through which we return thanks for all that God has given us in creation, and in our redemption through the pouring out of Christ’s life-blood on the cross.  In this sacrifice of bread and wine all that we do and are is joined by the Holy Spirit to the eternal offering of Christ on behalf of the world.  It is the meal which intensifies our union with Christ, draws us together as a community, and nourishes us with the grace needed for our transformation and our mission.  It is the mystery through which we are caught up into the communion of saints on earth and in heaven, the mystical Body of Christ.  It is the gift through which we experience a foretaste of the life to come.

The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist

A number of  years ago when I served as a chaplain for a course entitled “The Landscape of Jesus” at St. George’s College, Jerusalem, we spent a week exploring the sites of Galilee associated with the ministry of Jesus.  During our time there we stopped for an afternoon at Tagba, the location on the shore of the Sea of Galilee believed to be the site of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  The Arabic name Tagba comes from the earlier Greek name for the place, Heptapegon, the seven springs.  It has been a place of pilgrimage since early Christian times.  The present starkly beautiful Romanesque church by Antonio Barluzzi, was built in the 1920s on the foundation of a very early Byzantine church, and its sanctuary contains the original floor of the earlier building with its mosaic of loaves and fishes.  Because of the miracle that took place here it is called the Church of the Multiplication.

That afternoon our group celebrated a Eucharist on the shore near the church.  It was as arcadian a setting as one might hope for, a sunny spring day with crows cawing and cattle lowing in the background, and red anemones streaking the meadow grass, a deserted place now as it was in Jesus’ day.  One could easily imagine our Lord teaching there and the great crowd gathered on the grassy hillside to hear him.  In the gospel account only Philip and Andrew are mentioned by name, but we can assume all of the apostles were there with Jesus.

While there is no indication that the crowd expected to be fed, or were hungry, for that matter, Jesus interrupted his teaching to ask Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  Scholars call this the moment of invitation, when Jesus asks for an answer.  He did so to test Philip, because he knew what he intended to do.  Philip responded, “Six months wages would not buy enough for each of them to get a little.”  He knew that by themselves his apostles would be helpless to feed the crowd, but with the help of God anything is possible.  Andrew then chimed in that he has located a boy there with two small fish and five barley loaves, the only food on site, to illustrate how hopeless the situation was.  Even so, Jesus asked the crowd to sit down on the grass, took the loaves and the fish, blessed them, broke the loaves and fed the multitude.  Afterward the apostles gathered up what is left so that nothing is wasted, The abundance filled twelve baskets, far more than they started with.

In this miracle Jesus asked his followers to give the hungry something to eat.  How often we find ourselves in that position.  Called unexpectedly by Christ to respond to others needing our help, our first reaction is to think, “impossible,” “I can’t do it,” “I have nothing to give them,” or “What I have is far too little to be of any help.”  These are all common responses, and I know I have used them, feeling inadequate to the challenge and unwilling to trust the authority Christ has given  me, or more accurately, to allow the Holy Spirit to work through me.

In asking our help Jesus is not urging us to take on yet another task, to buy bread to feed the crowd.  He is asking us to give out of what we have.  Those little barley loaves and fish the boy brought along for his supper were the food of the poor.  It was clearly not enough, yet Jesus took that boy’s meager supper and made a feast for 5,000, with an abundance left over.  Whenever Jesus invites our help for a crisis on our doorstep, what we have to offer may seem just as woefully inadequate for the task, and yet in drawing on what we have we find there is more than enough there.  In giving of what we have, we feed others, but also are fed ourselves. In using it, our power and authority increases.  By inviting us to work with him, we become wonder workers with Jesus.  He helps us achieve the impossible.  And in cooperating with him energies and abilities are released in us we never knew we had.  We find we can do things well we would never have attempted otherwise.  But, of course, it takes both our willingness and God’s spirit working through us that brings about miracles.

That day on the shore of Galilee Jesus gave the crowd bread and they ate until they were satisfied.  From him there was enough for everyone.  With him there is always enough.  Jesus calls us to feed others from what we have.  Each of us who has encountered Jesus and follow him carries  a unique story of salvation, a story of freedom God has given us to be who we are, to go after life with both hands, the freedom to make mistakes sometimes, to get lost occasionally and then find our way back home.  Our relationship with Christ is a story of forgiveness, of compassion, of celebration, of friendship, of working together, and it is this experience we have to offer.  In the process of working with Christ we grow in trust for God and ourselves.

In the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves of bread Jesus gives us a foreshadowing of the sacrament of the Eucharist.  At each successive celebration of the Holy Communion Christ breaks bread and feeds the crowd.  He takes the simplest elements of daily life and transforms them so that all are filled.  And in feeding us on his body and blood we are transformed as well.  In the ancient mosaic floor of the Church of the Multiplication there are only four loaves not five, and two fish.  Ancient tradition has it that there is also an unseen fifth loaf, and it was this mysterious invisible bread that satisfied the hunger of the multitudes that day.

This morning we will soon move to the part of the Eucharistic celebration known as the offertory.  It is the time when we offer symbolically the “first fruits” of our lives to God, our living sacrifice.  So often we lose sight of the personal sacrificial nature of this offering when an impersonal community gift of bread, wine and money is brought forward.  While the community response is an important part of our worship, in addition let us bring our best to Christ to offer up so that in the transforming action of the Eucharist it will be hallowed and used for the salvation of the world.  It is our “fifth loaf,” and from it will come miracles we can never imagine and may never be aware of.  If we do we will never be the same again.

© 2009

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  1. Melanie Zybala on April 27, 2014 at 23:33

    Thank you for this classic sermon. I read it last year, and was helped, and find I need it more than ever now, facing tasks that have scared me for months.

  2. Carole Gilman on April 24, 2014 at 13:59

    I am reminded how much I need these talks to get my thinking going the right way each and every day. I am also seeing that I am more open to these talks than I was when Lent started and I found you all. Thanks be to God!!! AND you all !!

  3. sandra on May 5, 2013 at 10:44

    Waht a wonderfully soul nourishing word! Thank you. Bless you.

  4. Barbara on April 30, 2013 at 08:36

    I understand the need to share but how does that fit with the street beggars who may just be begging to scam people? Or the person that begs continually without apparent effort to work? I give to multiple charities both spiritual and secular. Am I called to give to all who ask?

  5. Friar Joshua Musiyambiri, CZM on April 30, 2013 at 05:19

    Reading the reflections posted daily refreshes my memories of the time I spent with you brothers in the Monastery about ten years ago! I’m encouraged by your sermons and pray that we continue striving for the crown that we shall obtain at the end. how wonderful it is brothers, to leave together in unity.
    More blessings for your ministry.

  6. Joanne Wilson on March 8, 2012 at 07:44

    Love the hidden fifth loaf,an ancient reminder I will carry into my day
    A powerful meditation.

  7. Polly Chatfield on March 7, 2012 at 08:00

    Thank you so much for these words, Eldridge. Your injunction to “go after life with both our hands” is an inspiring summons to pray for and make use of the joyful energy which it implies. When I contemplate all the needs and sorrows of the world I am tempted to despair of what i can do to help, but each act of love, each little piece of generosity adds up. I know it does.

  8. Barbara Miley on June 28, 2011 at 16:51

    These words have enough wisdom and spice to prod me into thinking about them over and over. It is a great sermon with so many reminders to me that in Christ our nothingness is His sufficiency when we attempt to feed the five thousand or accomplish any impossible challenge for the sake of His Kingdom on Earth.

    Thank you for writing them for me to have.


    Barbara Miley

  9. Deb on June 13, 2011 at 09:37

    Just a note to say that this sermon, which I linked to from Sunday’s Brother Give Us A Word, spoke directly to me. I needed this wonderful reminder that we are continually chosen — and given choice — by God to let his spirit move through us. Eldridge, I think of you as a great example of this lesson. Thank you.

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