Text: Mark 8: 11-21
You may be thinking this warm, fresh, fragrant loaf of bread on the table is an enticement to lunch after the service. You’re right -- it is!! And all being well, this morning’s reflection will prepare us for our conversation over lunch in a way that just might awaken our eagerness and open our hearts for even more than that irresistible experience of fresh bread in our teeth. So here we go.
This passage that we’ve just heard from Mark’s Gospel, it follows right on the heels of “the feeding of the 4000” … that story where, after 3 days of journeying ever deeper into Gentile territory, Jesus realizes that this great crowd that has presumably grown with each day, surely they’ve got to be hungry, and here they are out there in this remote place. Nobody packs all the food that’s needed when you don’t know quite where you’re headed or how far you’re going. With nothing to eat, Jesus realizes he can’t just send them away. Some of them are a long way from home and they aren’t going to make it without first being fed. Hearing his concern for the crowd, the disciples are quick to remind him … how can anyone feed all these people with bread out here in the desert? “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asks them. “7,” they say. “Oh and there’s a few small fish.”
By now, having read our way through Mark’s Gospel to get to this story, we know how it’s about to unfold because, only a few pages earlier, there’s an ever so similar account, with 5000 people, no food, except for 5 loaves and 2 fish. And what happens? Jesus has people sit down on the ground. He takes the all the food-- the little that there is-- and giving thanks to God, he blesses it, he breaks it up, he gives it. And the punch line? After everyone was satisfied, there were basketfuls left over!
So now they’re in a boat, Jesus and that core group of disciples. And what do we hear? They had forgotten to bring any bread …there’s just one loaf with them in the boat. “Beware!” Jesus says to them, as though he’s still shaking his head over that encounter with the Pharisees who were looking for a sign to test him -- “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” “Yeast?” the disciples hear him say. Is he talking about the bread we forgot to bring? That we shouldn’t go buying from the Pharisee’s bakery? Does he know we forgot the bread? You can hear it, can’t you? maybe even imagine it -- the anxiety rising? Jesus does. So he asks them, “why are you talking about having no bread?” And then come his anguished questions: Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear?
Having nothing to say for themselves, like they don’t actually understand, Jesus offers them something to hook onto. “Do you not remember?” he asks, “when I broke 5 loaves for the 5000, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” 12 they say. And seven for the 4000, how many baskets of broken pieces did you collect? 7, they say. “Do you not yet understand?” he asks them.
Of course all of this is for our benefit … because we know what it’s like, how easy it is to become anxious and forgetful. Anxious about how we’re ever going to make our way; anxious about not having enough, being enough, knowing enough ... feeling ourselves no match for what we face. We know how easy it is to be forgetful … losing sight of that time when unimaginably, the way opened; or when the thing that was sure to kill us somehow became the means to discovering a great grace. Or forgetting that powerful assurance that came to us, that came over us, that, at the time, we were so sure it would forever keep us from losing our courage, how we vowed we’d remember to cling to it.
This is what anxiety can do to us. It corrals us into focusing on our lack, our inadequacy. It constricts our capacity to imagine. It blocks our memory. It turns us in on ourselves … like we are all there is. “Do you still not perceive or understand?” Jesus’s question can be just as live for us as it was for the disciples in the boat.
Part of our conversation over lunch today will be about our financial picture. And here’s what I think we are being given to know: God doesn’t care about how little or much we have to share. God cares about the hunger in the world … the hunger for bread, the hunger among people for community, for belonging, for purpose, for meaning; the hunger among people for justice, for respect, the hunger for healing, for compassion, for forgiveness, for a new future. God doesn’t care about how little or much we have to share. We’re the ones who, when we look at all that’s needed and the relative little we have to offer, we’re the ones who are quick to say “there’s no way.”
But did you notice … Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to apologize to the crowd – tell them we’re sorry we didn’t plan ahead; didn’t anticipate this scale of hunger. He doesn’t tell the disciples to instruct the people to be on their way. No. He says to them, “gather up whatever there is.” And when they bring to him this meager amount, he doesn’t say “what good is that?” because -- because he remembers that God is in the bread business.
This day we are given to know, to trust, that our hunger and the hunger in the world around us, it isn’t something to be afraid of, be defeated by. Our inadequacy is not so much to be feared as offered! … offered to the One who out of nothing calls forth life!
So it is for us to resist letting our anxiety take over … and it is for us to refuse to let our sense of inadequacy determine what’s possible, for when we entrust seemingly inadequate gifts to God’s extravagant love, there’s no telling what might come of it … what might come of us-– how we too might be deeply satisfied.