It’s All About the Food (sort of…)
A sermon given at
Grace Church, Great Barrington, Massachusetts
July 25, 2021
The Rev. Dr. Stephen L. White
Today’s gospel is one of six stories in the four gospels about the feeding of thousands
of people with a few fish and loaves of bread. This is pretty amazing since no other
miracle story is told so often in the gospels. So, the fact that the feeding of the crowds
occupied a major place in the oral tradition of Jesus before the gospels were written
down has to mean something important. First of all, it suggests that something
spectacular might really have happened, otherwise why would all four gospels mention
Before I go on, though, I want to give you a sneak preview of how this sermon is going
to end. It’s going to end the same way today’s gospel reading ended, with the last line
– the punchline: “…immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were
going.” Hold that thought!
Back to the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. Did it really
happen? You can decide for yourself how you will take this story on board. But I want
to suggest that whether or not it really happened just the way it is reported in the
gospels doesn’t really matter.
Why? Well, to use my family’s motto, it’s all about the food.
Think of all the ways food and meals figure into the gospel stories – all of them. There
is a wedding feast at Cana, the father of the prodigal son ordering a feast upon his
return, the rich man’s dinner, the time a woman washed Jesus’ feet while he was
having dinner, Jesus declaring that all foods are clean for us to eat, the last supper,
and even after the resurrection there is a story about Jesus grilling fish on the beach.
And the list goes on. I call Luke’s gospel the dinner party gospel because food and
eating together is so prominent a theme.
In my childhood home there was one small bookcase mostly filled with books my
mother had acquired during World War II. My dad had dyslexia, so his reading was
mostly confined to newspapers. All the books in the bookcase were in pristine
condition and some had their original dusk jackets. Except for one book that was
tattered and torn: The Joy of Cooking. It’s all about the food.
Our ministry through Gideon’s Garden that helps to provide food security for people in
need is an expression of our desire to show God’s love to those who might be forgiven
for thinking that God has forgotten about them or thinking that God favors other people
more than them.
But it really isn’t all about the food, is it? It’s about what the food means, what it
Food and drink are fundamental needs, necessary for life. Without food we die. And,
eating together as a family and with friends, or at feasts marking holidays and special
occasions are about intimacy, love, safety, companionship, connectedness – all those
things that make us human. In a rule book written in the year 516 by St. Benedict of
Nursia for monks living in communally he says, “No one will be excused from kitchen
service…for such service increases reward and fosters love.”
All living creatures require fuel of some kind, but humans are unique in the social
connection food has. There is a difference between simply eating and having a meal.
Cultures are defined by their food. Think of the old rivalry between the Italians and the
French about who has the best food. Recently a hand-written book was discovered
made from scraps of paper with a cover made from a box from the Red Cross. A
French soldier starving in a German POW camp wrote down all the recipes he could
remember from his childhood. In this way he held on to hope and to his identity, to his
The gospels talk a lot about physical food, but the really important thing to notice is
how the gospels use physical hunger and material food as metaphors for a deeper
hunger and a more lasting food – a food that won’t leave us hungering for more. In
Matthew’s gospel Jesus famously says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled.” And in John’s gospel we really get to the heart of
the matter when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never
go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
That’s why we come here, isn’t it? Not for the coffee house goodies, excellent as they
are, but for the bread of life. We come for spiritual nourishment which we experience in
the acts of praying and singing together, in greeting one another at the peace, and
especially when we take communion. At communion we take bread and wine that have
become the body and blood of Christ into our own bodies so that the physical reality of
the bread and the wine and the spiritual reality of the real presence of Christ become
part of our own bodies and our own souls.
So, we come back to the six stories of Jesus feeding thousands of people with less
food than could feed a single family. And, notice that in the end there were twelve
baskets of leftovers. This is about abundance, satisfaction, fullness. It’s about being
cared for by God. It’s about how God will always satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst,
our most profound longings. Taking communion can change us, transform us, re3
shape us because in the bread and wine we are reminded of God’s abundance, of
God’s care for us.
It’s no accident that in the brief story immediately following the feeding of the 5,000 in
John’s gospel, Jesus walks on the water toward the disciples’ boat that has been
tossed about by a violent storm. At first, it seems as if the two stories are not related at
all, as if they’re just part of a sequence of events in Jesus’s life and ministry. But pay
attention to what happens right at the end of this story. There’s a storm. The Sea of
Galilee is not very big – only 8 miles wide and 13 miles long – and it’s not very deep.
Three- or four-foot waves are common in storms and would be very scary if you were
in a small sail boat. But, as with everything else in the Bible, the boat and the storm
have a meaning. The boat on the sea is like our lives – sometimes things are calm and
go well, and sometimes things get, you know, kind of stormy and don’t go well.
So, Jesus tells his friends what he always tells them when they are upset and troubled.
He says, “Do not to be afraid.” And then Jesus gets into the boat and John’s gospel
tells us, “…the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”
See the connection between the two stories? Jesus fills them up with good food, he
calms their fears, he reassures them, and he takes them safely to their destination –
“…the land toward which they were going.”
So it is with us. Jesus fills us with good things – with the best thing of all: himself. He
fills us up with himself and calms our fears. He reassures us that all shall be well with
us. And he takes us to the land toward which we are going, where we will enjoy a
heavenly banquet with him and all whom we love forever.