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Sunday 25 July 2021: Trinity 8, Seventeenth in Ordinary time, Proper 12

The Abundant Provision of God

2 Kings 4:42-44; John 6:1-21

By Stephen Grindrod

Reader in the Diocese

Context: a Eucharistic service for a small elderly congregation on the edge of a market town

Aim: to show God’s abundant provision facilitated by sacrificial giving

AN OLD TESTAMENT EXAMPLE

Background: King Jeroboam has lost confidence in God’s promises and as an alternative has set up two golden calves, in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:25-33) where he instituted festivals and offered sacrifices to the pagan gods he had created. There is also a famine in the land.

Elisha is at Gilgal meeting with the company of prophets who had rejected the king with his pagan worship and remained true to the Lord. An unnamed man comes bringing Elisha (the man of God) twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe corn. This man had recognised that Elisha was the true representative of his Lord rather than the apostate King Jeroboam and his priests.

‘Give it to the people to eat,’ says Elisha. Then, foreshadowing the words from the passage in John, the servant asks how he can set so little before 100 men. Elisha responds, “this is what The Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over’”.

JESUS FEEDS THE FIVE THOUSAND

The Gospel reveals Jesus as the supplier of human needs and points towards his testimony of being the bread of life.

Jesus crosses to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd follow because they have seen miraculous signs. Jesus goes up a mountainside and sits down. His disciples sit at his feet: the typical position for a teaching rabbi.

Jesus sees the great crowd coming and engages with Philip to challenge his faith. Philip is having difficulty in believing and understanding the meaning of the Kingdom of God (John 14:8-14). He is from nearby Bethsaida and has local knowledge so Jesus asks: ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ Philip replies that eight months wages would not buy enough bread for them all.

Andrew brings a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish. Barley loaves were the cheapest and food of the poor. Have you noticed the boy is also unnamed?

Jesus tells the disciples to make the people sit. Following customs of the time, the men gathered and sat in one place with the women and children separate in another. Which group did the boy join?

When they had all eaten enough, the disciples gather up the leftovers. Jews regarded bread as a gift of God and required that any scraps that fell on the ground must be picked up. The Greek word for basket is kophinos which is a relatively small (23 litres) basket that could be carried on the back to hold daily provisions and was often carried by travelling Jews. Each disciple returned with his basket full. Twelve baskets … a sign of an abundant supply.

This sign (John 6:14) was to point the crowd to the Son of Man and the food of eternal life he gives (John 6:27), but they underestimated Jesus and thought of him as just another prophet. God through Moses had provided food and water in the wilderness and the crowd assumed that Jesus would be limited to the same. They then decide to make him king by force. Jesus sensing that they are about to create a kingdom on their own terms withdrew. The Kingdom of God is radically different from their expectations of one maintained by military might with soldiers to fight for it.

THE RADICAL KINGDOM

Both passages contain unnamed individuals who offered all they brought – without the need for recognition or reward. Their sacrifice, recognised and used by God, blessed many even though they went unnoticed by the crowds. Our creator God desires to work in partnership with us to demonstrate the abundance of His Kingdom.

In an age where identity and recognition are key, are we prepared to be counter-cultural and to recognise and engage with God without any thought or desire of human acknowledgement?

Do we have imaginations sanctified by the Holy Spirit to see God working through and with us to bring abundant provision?

In the words of Paul (Ephesians 3:20) ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.’

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