Five Little Loaves and Two Measly Fish
Proper 12, Year B
July 29, 2018
Last week we began our three-week series on Sabbath by hearing Jesus’ invitation to his followers to “Come away and rest a while” after having been sent out two-by-two to share Jesus’ message of love with the nearby towns and villages. Today, we re-enter that same story, but it’s almost as though John has taken a magnifying glass to Mark’s gospel. Where in Mark we have only a rough outline of what happened after Jesus led his disciples away to “rest a while,” in John, we get the full story. And while this, too, is not technically a Sabbath story, Sabbath rest once again peeks its way through the corners of the tale.
Jesus has been followed by an immense crowd of people. They’re anxious to hear him teach and yearning to see and experience healing at his hands. They are also tired from the long walk to reach him, and they are hungry! The disciples are concerned, there is nowhere for these people to get food—and then a solution presents itself; but it is one that is almost comical. Andrew approaches Jesus with a young boy at his side. The boy carries with him five barley loaves and two fish. Five small loaves and two measly fish, what is this meager fare in light of the massive hunger surrounding them! At best this tiny pittance will only serve to increase the crowd’s hunger, the small taste of bread will only make things worse, leaving them hungrier than when they began.
You can almost see Jesus smile as he takes the meager offering, gives thanks for the boy’s generosity and God’s gracious provision, breaks the bread, and passes it to the person nearest him. The disciples wait with baited breath—will the crowd rebel in anger when there’s not enough—except, shockingly, there is enough to restore each and every person. What initially seemed like it would only make matters worse turns out to be the solution to the problem after all.
There it is. Sabbath peeking out from behind Jesus’ miracle.
Modern American culture has sold us a bill of goods. By telling us to “do more” we are tricked into believing we can “be more.” Our calendars and to-do lists are filled to over flowing and yet we add more and more each day. We cram our days full of activity some important and meaningful, some trivial and distracting. But instead of becoming “more” and “better” we find ourselves exhausted. We are over-worked, over-committed, over-tired, and over-stimulated. We are hungry.
And the answer that is offered to us, like five small loaves and two measly fish, seems almost comical.
Come away and rest a while.
And we respond, “I already have too much too do. My calendar is full to bursting, my days run together in a mass of activity, and my nights are overtaken by attempts to keep up with friends and the news of the day, or to simply escape into TV, movies, or social media, and God responds by instructing me to take a day off? I don’t have enough space in seven days to get everything done. Does God really expect me to cram it all in to six?”
Not the answer you were expecting is it. The purpose of Sabbath is not to give us more time thus allowing us to cram more things in, but to change our relationship to time and to the things we try to accomplish in it. Sabbath rest is a master class in the art of letting go. By its very design it challenges us to reorient ourselves and our lives, releasing control of our calendars and our to-do lists and recognizing that we simply cannot do it all.
Sabbath offers us the opportunity to let go and acknowledge we are not God—we are not indispensable. In releasing our deepest cares and concerns and our more “trivial” ones (like a clean house!) we learn to trust that God cares as deeply about them as we do. The challenge, of course, is God may, and likely will, address these concerns in ways that don’t often accord with my carefully laid plans. Just like Jesus as he feeds the immense crowd with five small loaves and two measly fish.
Sabbath invites us to reorient our lives away from what we can get done, to who we can be with God and with others. It invites us to prioritize relationship over accomplishments. To prioritize play over work. To prioritize rest over busyness.
And it begins with intention. Sabbath will not simply happen. Busyness is wired too deeply into our collective conscience. If Sabbath rest is going to happen, we have to make it happen.
Thus Sabbath is also a master class in mindfulness. By creating a specific time, be it a few hours or a whole day (although I would recommend a whole day), and then committing ourselves to be aware of how we are moving through that time and space, by being mindful, we can begin to notice the traps that pull us out of Sabbath rest. The errant pair of shoes left on the stairs that really should be taken up and put away, the quick response to a colleague’s email that draws us back into work, the grass that probably needs to be mowed and won’t take long, the quick trip to the grocery store that slips into an hour-long shopping chore, or the quick glance at Facebook or Twitter that later leaves us wondering where the last hour and a half went as we scanned mindlessly though our feed. Sabbath mindfulness is the corrective to these moments—as we notice ourselves slipping away from Sabbath rest into busyness we can return, slowly and gently, not shaming ourselves but instead acknowledging that Sabbath rest is a work in progress, just like us.
As I mentioned at the beginning, today is week two of a three-week series on Sabbath rest. Next week we’ll dive deep into the nitty gritty details of Sabbath with some “tips and tricks” for how to start and maintain a Sabbath practice.
Until then, I invite you to return to where we began and hear the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as he beckons each of us once again to…
“Come away, and rest a while.”