The gospel lesson that Jennifer just read is a remarkable story.
It’s the only miracle story that is found in all four Gospels, and it actually appears twice in Matthew and Mark. There’s something about it that all of the Gospel writers thought was indispensable to the story of Jesus Christ. There are discrepancies and differences between the accounts, of course, but the overarching narrative is the same.
And we know the general story well. Jesus finds himself surrounded by a large crowd, and he has compassion on them, healing their sickness and curing their disease. It gets to be later in the day, and people begin to feel that pit in their stomach of being hungry. The disciples want to send everyone away; not only do they not have any food, but the wilderness is a dangerous and volatile place when the sun goes down. Much to their chagrin, Jesus instead gives those fateful words: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
The other Gospel accounts are a little more skeptical in their responses. In Mark, the disciples ask, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” In Luke, they reply, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish — unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” John portrays a little bit of incredulity as well, as they respond, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” In our text today, they’re a little bit more straight-forward and simply say, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
If anything, the disciples seem to be the responsible ones. There are thousands of people, and what they had wouldn’t be enough for their group of thirteen, much less everyone. Nevertheless, Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowd. Miraculously, they find that everyone is able to have their fill, and there are still twelve whole basket left over.
It’s a story that warms our heart when we hear it. It depicts a picture of a God who seeks to heal our sickness, to provide for our needs, and to fill our stomachs with enough food. Those of us who have grown up in the church world have heard countless lessons and sermons on this story, and even those who are newer likely heard it in popular culture. Restaurants, soup kitchens, and anti-hunger organizations all around the world have used the language of loaves and fishes for their names, and there is no shortage of artistic depictions of this miracle. It’s a well-known and beloved story, but I now find that I more often than not find myself asking questions.
How could this have happened? Did it even really happen? Were the loaves multiplied all at once, or did a new one appear every time one was taken? Doesn’t this violate the law of the conservation of mass? Maybe the people were so touched by whomever gave those five loaves of bread and two fish that they felt the leftovers from their lunch sitting in their pockets; as the baskets were passed around, maybe some instead slipped their own bread and fish in.
But when we get stuck asking these kinds of questions, I think that we’re missing the much larger picture that this story is painting for us. After all, we will never know for sure what to make of this story. We have ideas, and we have theories that we might like more than others. But the more time that we spend debating the technicalities of what happened, I think that we’re missing the point. Above all else, the story is one that tells us that Jesus is in the habit of feeding people. This means to us that God is one who cares that hungry people get fed.
I think back to when I was four years old, sitting in Mrs. Faye’s Sunday School class. There’s a picture in front of me that I’m coloring of a boy carrying a basket, and in that basket are five loaves of bread and two fish. The account that we find in the Gospel of John is the only story that includes this boy, as the other three stories do not provide an explanation as to where the food came from. But I really like this image of a young boy looking at the crowd and looking at what he has with him. While Jesus could surely just snap his fingers and make a giant feast appear, he instead works with what this boy offers.
This is the way that God chooses to work in our world.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, possibly from nothing. God takes a bit of dry, barren dust from the ground and out of it forms a human being in the divine image. God chose Sarah at the ripe age of 90 to mother a God’s chosen nation. God chose Moses, a stuttering murderer, to lead Israel out of Egypt. The story that our scriptures tell us is of a God who works not with the most elaborate or worthy material but with that which is nothing. The story we read about is of a God who is incarnated in a lowly carpenter who is killed on a Roman cross, a God who descends into Hell itself and creates out of that new and everlasting life.
Too often in our lives, we are worried that we do not have enough. We worry that we won’t have enough money to pay our rent. We worry that our kids don’t have quite the right kind of intellect to get into a good school so that they can get into a good college so that they can get a good job. We pride ourselves on what it is that we accomplish, as if our merit badges are what defines us as people. We strive to have more and more in the hopes that we become more and more in the process.
My friends, hear the good news today that you are enough as you are right now sitting in this pew. You are enough.
With all of the stresses of life, with the debt that keeps piling up, you are enough.
Whether your marriage is thriving or crumbling, whether you ran a 5K this morning or you barely made it out of bed in one piece, you are enough.
Whatever your gender identity, your race, your sexuality, your education level, your income, your national origin and immigration status, your faith or complete lack thereof, your history and background, or your career — you are enough.
You are enough to be loved by God relentlessly and unconditionally. You are enough to be accepted into this community. You are enough to be worthy of dignity and respect. For our God is one who works with what often seems like nothing, with what seems like dirt, bringing forth goodness and life.
The blessing that Jesus would have prayed at this meal would have been something like this: “Blessed are you, O God, Creator of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
If God can bring forth bread from the earth to invoke the Kingdom of Heaven, what more can God do with us, with you, you, with all of us who have been created in God’s own image?
And so the invitation today is to allow yourself to feel that you are enough. To know that you are enough to be received by God, that you are enough to blessed by God, and, yes, to know that you are enough to be broken open by God, as much as that can hurt. But then you are also enough to be given by God to the world, to partake in, participate in, and join that Kingdom of Heaven.
 Also appears in
 Mark 6:37
 Luke 9:13
 John 6:7
 Matthew 14:17