It is Enough – Br. James Koester

John 6: 1-15

I know exactly where I was. I was sitting in the quire of Canterbury Cathedral. It was March 1976. To be more exact, it was the Fourth Sunday in Lent. With a little detective work, I know that it was 28 March 1976.

I know that it was the Fourth Sunday in Lent, because the gospel that day was this story of the boy with the five barley-loaves and the two, small fish. I remember to this day the experience of hearing, as if for the first time, the story of the young lad who shared his lunch. Now, every time I hear this passage, I find myself sitting in Canterbury’s quire.

This story opens chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. The chapter begins here, which is part of the larger feeding story, and then moves on to the Calming of the Sea, and finally the Bread of Life discourse. It’s an incredibly rich and significant chapter, full of possibilities. Because it is so rich, the story of the boy is often lost. It’s easy to overlook him, or to lose him altogether. In fact, the other three gospels, all of which record this miracle, fail to mention the boy. And John fails, or has other reasons, not to name him. It is this nameless boy who has held my attention for over forty years.

Hungry crowds are gathered, having followed Jesus from one side of the Sea of Galilee, to the other, and then up the mountain. It is near Passover, when the People of Israel remember God’s acts of redemption, liberation, and salvation through the story of the Exodus. Part of remembering that story, is by remembering how God fed them for forty years in the wilderness with manna. It’s here we meet the lad. ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’[1] Ever practical Philip responds: ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’[2] At this point Andrew ushers in our hero. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’[3]

In just a few words we discover an enormous amount about the boy now standing before Jesus.

I imagine him as part of this throng of humanity, pushing his way forward so that he can be close to the action, close to the excitement, close to Jesus. I imagine that he is so close, he hears Jesus asking Philip where bread might be bought. In an instant, grabbing his pack lunch, he darts forward to Andrew exclaiming give him this, give him this. Suddenly, perhaps tongue tied, there he is standing before Jesus holding out all the food that he has to share. It’s not much he knows, but it’s something, and he trusts. He trusts that Jesus will accept his offering.

We’re not told if words are exchanged between Jesus and the boy, but the offering is taken. They are blessed, broken, given, and Eucharist is made.

But what is it that has been offered, blessed, broken, and given? Not much, just five barley loaves, and two small fish. It’s significant we are told the loaves are barley: the poorest quality of bread, eaten by the poorest people. But while barley loaves were the bread of the poor, they were also the bread of Passover. What the boy offered was not much, but it was enough. It was enough to feed the hungry pilgrim people of God.

This story can be understood on several levels. It can be understood as a miracle story, but where is the miracle? Is it in the little boy, who generously offers what little he has, knowing the Jesus will do the rest? Is it in Jesus’ ability to take the little that is offered, and turn it into a sufficiency, so that the people ate as much as they wanted?[4] Is it in the mystery of what is eaten, so that even in a little morsel of bread, a little bit of fish, or a little sip of wine, God’s hungry people are fed and satisfied?[5]Is it that in seeing the selfless act of one, others are inspired to acts of selfless generosity? Is it that encountering Jesus in word, sign and sacrament our hearts are changed, and like that boy, perhaps like that crowd, we become willing to offer what we have, and what we are, no matter how little and insignificant, for God’s work of redemption, liberation, and salvation?

Once again, we find ourselves planted in the story, not as observers, but as active participants: as the young boy, offering what we have, no matter how small, so that God can take our offering and bless it for the feeding of the world.

So once again we gather around this Table, and we offer to God all that we have, and all that we are, knowing it is not very much. Here, take this we say, and God takes it, blesses it, breaks it, gives it, and it is enough.

Here, take this. And it is enough.


Lectionary Year and Proper: Year 1, Friday after the Second Sunday of Easter

[1] John 6: 5b

[2] John 6: 7

[3] John 6: 8 -9

[4] John 6: 11

[5] John 6: 12

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