30th Oct 2022 │The Village – Bryndwr │John 6:1-13 We are called to value others, be open to others, and to accept others. Josh Olds
This passage kind of ruins the saying doesn’t it? “Give a person a fish, they eat for a day, teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime” – unless it’s Jesus and then you just give him a fish and he turns into heaps more! Interestingly, the feeding of the 5000 is the only miraculous story of Jesus, other than the resurrection that appears in all four of the gospels. However, I particularly like John’s account of this story, because specific to the version of the story in John is the child who offers up his lunch. I was always fascinated by this story from John 6 as a kid. I spent hours wondering what it must have been like to be there – how did it all happen? In my curiosity I would imagine being there and watching the food multiply – for some reason in my imagination, as I was standing there in the crowd, when Jesus took to food and gave thanks, the rest of the crowd would all close their eyes and bow their heads while Jesus prayed, but I would sneakily keep one eye open and on the food – watching a few small loaves become enough food to feed 5000+ people!
Aside from the curious expansion of food, I’ve often wondered if what drew me to this story as a child was the fact that it revolves around the participation of a child. I wonder if in some ways I almost felt included in the story because I could identify with the boy, and was excited by the idea that even as a child I might have something to offer that God might be able to use for those around me. I think for me this story always tapped into the longings that we probably have all experienced – to be included; to be invited to be part of something; to have what we can offer be accepted by others. This ties in with one our core values as the Village community – that we are called to value others, to be open to others, and to accept others. I think this story provides a helpful starting point for us to reflect on that value.
Interestingly, while the child in this story participates in a significant way, he is a nameless, silent figure. We don’t actually hear from him, or really anything about him – other than that he was young and possessed a small amount of food – 5 small barley loaves and 2 fish. Barley bread was the cheapest and least desirable form of bread around, and was often regarded as the bread of the poor. I think all of this speaks to this child’s social standing – he wasn’t important in any way, he wasn’t seen as having much to contribute, he was a young, insignificant figure. Yet, he is included, the small amount he has to offer is accepted, he is invited to participate in what becomes one of the most well documented events from Jesus’ ministry. I wonder how the boy felt? I wonder what it was like to be noticed, to be included, to be a contributor?
Of course, this isn’t an uncommon story of Jesus’ ministry is it? We see time and time again, Jesus talking and eating, touching and interacting with those that no one else would – the marginalised, the unclean, the overlooked. The gospel passage in the lectionary this week is the story of Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus from Luke 19, the short man who climbed a tree to see Jesus because the crowd wouldn’t let him through. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus profited by cheating people out of their money, he was despised, rejected, alienated by his community, of course he didn’t help himself – but what does Jesus do when he meets him? He invites himself over to Zacchaeus’ place for a meal. In John 4, just a couple of chapters before our passage this morning – is the story of Jesus chatting with the Samaritan woman at the well. This story presents a number of social barriers that Jesus simply disregards by interacting with this woman – her immoral lifestyle, her gender, her ethnicity, all reasons that this woman had no social standing, yet when no one else would, Jesus goes out of his way to meaningfully connect with her. In Matthew 8, a man sick with leprosy kneels before Jesus, and Jesus does the socially unthinkable – he touches him. This man would have been considered both ceremonially and physically unclean, no one would want to go near him let alone touch him, but Jesus does.
There are countless stories just like these peppered throughout the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life – he defends a woman caught in adultery, he dines with those society regards as degenerates, he pauses his ‘important work’ to play with kids. Jesus sees through the social barriers, through the shortcomings, through the uncleanness – to the humanity of people. He values, he is open to, he accepts those that no one else would. Now, of course this doesn’t mean that Jesus turns a blind eye to people’s broken or harmful living, as we see throughout these stories, Jesus regularly points them in the right direction, towards wholeness, towards healing, towards forgiveness, but he does so with compassion and love, he does so in way that still affirms their humanity, despite their brokenness.
As we read these gospel accounts of Jesus constantly seeing through people’s brokenness to their humanity, they don’t just inform us of what Jesus did, but of what Jesus does. Because just as Jesus valued, was open to, and accepted these biblical figures despite their shortcomings and brokenness he does so with us. So, as a community of people who know and have known acceptance even despite our flaws we are called to offer that same thing to those around us – to value others, to be open to others, and to accept others. As the church we are to exemplify the way of God, or the Kingdom of God in our contexts – to work for the wellbeing of our communities, to offer care and support to those vulnerable in our midst, to advocate for the marginalised and overlooked, to be hospitable and humble, and to make space for all. It’s great to see the various ways in which that happens around here – the support we’re able to offer in our relationship with Burnside Primary, our music and play groups, the foot clinic, the clothing shop, the market the different ways we’ve been able to support Tata school in Vanuatu, to name a few.
On the other hand of course, participating in the way of God in the world also means recognising our limitations. We are a community of finite beings, with a finite amount of time and energy and resources, so we can’t expect ourselves to be able to meet every need that we encounter, and that’s ok. A feature of our Village community is partnership. One of the things I’ve quickly come to appreciate since hanging around here is the number of services run by external groups and agencies that we contribute to by being willing to share our buildings and our space – the Parenting Place, Age concern groups, dance and music therapy classes, fitness groups, art classes, St Johns, Toastmasters, brain injury rehabilitation, Kapa Haka – the list goes on. While we can’t meet all of these needs in and of ourselves, by partnering with external organisations by opening up our space, there are many ways in which we’re contributing to the wellbeing of our community.
While there’s much that we as a community offer and contribute to, our calling to value others, to be open to others, and to accept others is also a calling that we receive at an individual level, beyond our part in the Village community. Because first and foremost, before we are the people of the Village, we are people of God. So, what does it look like for us to embody this value in our own day to day lives? How do we, as God’s people, value, be open to, and accept the marginalised, the unclean, the overlooked figures in our context? Do we know of these people in our context? In our passage from John 6, one of Jesus’ disciples – Andrew, first notices the child and his lunch, once he is noticed, the boy is invited to participate, to contribute. Maybe it starts with paying attention, with noticing. Noticing those that are different from us, noticing those that we find difficult, noticing those that don’t seem to be noticed by others.
I wonder who we might begin to notice when we start to look? Maybe some people are already coming to mind for you – people who we share little in common with, people who make us feel uncomfortable, people who don’t seem to have much to contribute. Now, I’m not suggesting our lives and our homes must become open to everyone, of course there are reasons that it might be necessary for there to be some boundaries, some safeguards in place. But what I am suggesting is that when we notice these people, the marginalised, the unclean, the overlooked around us we look past the barriers, the shortcomings, the uncleanness and see their humanity. It seems that our world is good at conditioning us to huddle up with those who look, think, and speak like us – it’s comfortable, it’s safe, it’s familiar. The problem with this though is that the other then becomes a threat, our differences become fences and cattle stops. By recognising our shared humanity with another we begin from our commonality, not our difference. We are called to value others, to be open to others, and to accept others – because Jesus first does so with us. Amen.