One of the most provocative stories of the Gospels is the feeding of the 5,000. To begin with, people had gathered from every strata of society to listen to Jesus: rich and poor, clean and unclean, righteous and sinners, friends and enemies, all together. In the end, they all got fed the same; no favorites, no head of table, no honored guests, no lines of prejudice, no requirements or minimum qualifications.
All were fed, no matter what.
That just wasn’t done. Table fellowship was a sign of respect and honor for the other. If the sinners and unclean were at the feast, then everyone would be unclean. But to Jesus, no one was unclean. All were honored, respected and fed. It was a new way of living.
Are we ready to live by that same code of compassion and inclusion? Can we share a meal (or neighborhood, or community, or church pew, etc…) with just anyone who shows up? Do we really open our doors to everyone? Often people on the margins feel judged, shunned, shamed and unwanted. It might not even be intentional, but it happens every day. This story is a challenge of radical hospitality for all of us who follow Jesus.
The challenge goes deeper. How did those fish and loaves multiply in the baskets? Maybe it was somehow the hand of God. If so, it was an amazing miracle at the time, but what about those who are hungry and poor today? How will the miracle happen for them?
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Maybe this is not a story of supernatural multiplication. How does the story change? How did all those people get fed? What if some of the people did bring their own food? The disciples wanted to send everyone to town so the ones without could buy food. But Jesus knew that many would still be without food even in town. So instead, he gathered what was given, blessed it, and trusted there would be enough.
Maybe in the blessing a different miracle happened. Maybe people’s hearts were opened to the needs of those around them. What if the people with food were compelled by the Spirit of God to share what they had and make sure everyone got enough? What if compassion of neighbor became stronger than self-preservation and fear of the other? Mark tells us that 5000 were fed that day. Rather than an accurate head count, 5000 symbolized the whole of the Jewish world; men, women and children. It was meant to say “everyone was fed”.
Maybe this story suggests that if those with means are willing to share, then everyone can and will be fed. Here we can find hope for today. This is the new way of living that Jesus brings to all of us. He calls it the “Kingdom of God,” probably because it takes the power of God to make it happen.
We too are sitting with the crowd and Jesus again blesses what there is and trusts there will be enough. It is an invitation into a new way of living that looks beyond the self. There is enough for everyone. May we have the courage to open our hearts and share in the abundance that God envisions for all people, no matter what.
Rev. John Lund is an ELCA Lutheran Campus Pastor and director of Emmaus Campus Ministry at the University of Montana. He can be reached at John.Lund@umontana.edu.