The Banquet of King Jesus, Sovereign of all Humankind – Pentecost VIII, July 26th 2009 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, California
Pentecost VIII, July 26th 2009
at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, California
2 Kings 4:42-44 Psalm 145:10-18 Ephesians 3:14-21 John 6:1-21
The Banquet of King Jesus, Sovereign of all Humankind,
Today we have the story of how Jesus feeds the five thousand according to the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel tries to get to the bottom of the good news of Jesus Christ; he tries to think it all the way through. Thus he shows that this feeding of the five thousand represents the royal nature of Jesus and that is why afterward, the people try to capture him and make him their king.
In those days the powerful often had huge banquets for the people under them. There were Roman feedings of thousands by which they wanted to prove that they were capable of providing the livelihoods for the people they ruled. In Rome someone from a patrician family gathered clients for whom they became the patrons. Today we feel that we work for the powerful, but in those days, a dignitary with authority in Rome had to give benefits to clients, who then performed duties for their patron. Thus clients would ask a patron, “What have you done for me lately?” and the patron would ask, “Have you done the duties I assigned to you?” The clients of the patron were expected to gather around the doorway of his house and praise and honor him as he stepped out to begin his day. Then the larger and larger the crowd, the more prestige and honor this patron would have. Attaining glory because of great and noble works, the patron could become a senator or consul or even a Caesar. With that all his subjects had a great deal to gain in the benefits the strongman would then be able to distribute.
We often forget that Jesus, his disciples, and the crowds around him, were living in the Roman Empire. We think of him in Galilee and Judea, but the Romans called the area Palestine.
The Prophet Elisha, the Psalm, and King Jesus, the Lamb of God, all point, however, not to a human patronage system, but to the reign of God. In the words of Isaiah: “What a beautiful sight! On the mountains a messenger announces to Jerusalem, “Good News! You are saved. There will be peace. Your God is now King” (Isaiah 52:7). Only God can be that giver of grace and favor and only God should be believed in and trusted with our lives. Those who trust in flesh, that is politicians, will find that they can’t keep their promises, but it is God alone who keeps them.
Barley loaves were evidently the bread eaten by the poor. Elisha feeds a hundred prophets with twenty of these loaves of bread, along with some grain, given as an offering of the first fruit to him by a man from Baalshalishah, a town near Shechem. Elisha demonstrates that the Word of God can be trusted to come true: “give to the people and let them eat, for thus saith the Lord, ‘they shall eat and have some left.’”
Our Good Shepherd provides for us in abundance – with lush green pastures and still waters to quench our thirst. But notice how our first fruits are required. If your offering to God comes from the top, then you will always have something left over. Forget God and you will never have enough. It is an insult to God to offer only what you have left over, because in this case you usually don’t have anything left over, if you didn’t limit yourself right from the start with your offering to God. Here the fellow brought his offering to the man of God, but you can give to God by giving to the poor and needy or to the church. But your offering should always be from your first fruit and never from your left overs.
Then the words from psalm 145 come true: “the eyes of all look upon you [O Lord] and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and fill the desires of all living things” (15-16). Notice how beforehand the psalmist praises the splendor of God’s kingdom: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and your dominion endures throughout all generations.”
Our unfaithfulness to God by our trust in the god of money, called Mammon, has brought this recession down upon us. “The Lord holds up those who are falling and raises up those who are bowed down” our Psalm says, but our shepherds have not protected the weak from the powerful. The staff of the shepherd keeps the strong from exploiting and taking advantage of the weak. The good shepherd uses his staff to keep the hogs from taking it all away from those who are weak and vulnerable. Anyway, I believe that our prosperity became unpleasant in God’s eyes, because we did not care about the wretched poverty of our inner cities and Appalachia in our own country, nor that poverty which stretches across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Now thousands of us lose our health coverage every day, over 600,000 people lose their job a month, and millions are under water with their mortgages and have lost their homes, while the homeless lines of our soup kitchen are getting longer and longer. We can trust in money, but God is a jealous God and God is not mocked.
The story about Jesus feeding the five thousand is in all four Gospels and that means it is important. The Gospel of John shows that it is a royal act and that is why the people want to capture Jesus after it and make him their king. But they do not understand the height, depth, width, and breadth of the love in the kingdom of God. They want to make Jesus into their conception of a king, which is very much like a Caesar. But Jesus’ conception is to be the Christ of God, the Holy One come to be among us. He has to dwell in the hearts of the faithful: their hearts have to be his dwelling place, like the temple is the dwelling place of God – for when we are baptized in his name, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20). Just having a job, a livelihood, our daily bread, our house with a car in the driveway, is not the whole picture of what the kingdom of God is about. His kingdom is not of this world; it is in but not of it. We live in this world, but are hearts are not to be caught up in worldly values.
The multiplication of the bread is the second of Jesus’ signs in the Gospel of John. His first sign is changing water into wine at the marriage of Cana. Thus Jesus provides for us the bread and the wine for the Holy Communion we receive in his kingdom. John presents Jesus as the King of the universe and of all the nations, but he does not want the twelve tribes of Israel to be lost, nor anybody at all. The bread stands for people and Jesus says, “gather up the fragments left over so that nothing [we could say, “no one”] is lost.” And the disciples gathered up left overs, filling up twelve baskets. John is speaking in picture language to tell us about the kingdom of God, because Jesus accepts the offering of that little boy, takes the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributes it. That means that all are provided for out of the miraculous abundance of God from the Table of the Lord.
Naturally the people had their eyes on the food and wanted more of it, so they try to capture Jesus to make him their king. In the early church, when someone who had done great things, came into a cathedral, the people sometimes captured him and made him their bishop, even against his will. Augustine avoided churches until he was captured.
Now that assault by the people who were only thinking of their daily bread, their livelihood, their jobs, houses, and prosperity, made Jesus withdraw. Perhaps even the disciples were in on it, because they too became separated from Jesus in the ensuing disarray. Sudden storms often take place on the Sea of Galilee, which in this place, is about seven miles wide. Without the strength of the Holy One from on high, they have to row by their own effort for three to four miles through the wind and the waves. Then they see the one who changed the water into wine, multiplied the loaves of bread for communion, walking on the water to them. They became really frightened as he drew near them. Were they frightened because he was the Holy One, frightened because of the raging waves of the sea, or frightened for him walking on water as if it were dry land? We do not know. But when they wanted to take him into their boat, by the power from on high, they immediately reached land near the city of Capernaum, where they were going.
The way the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters, when God created the earth and filled it with the abundance of his gifts, with more than enough food to provide for all living things; the way the Hebrew slaves walked through the Red Sea on dry land, so Jesus walked on water to rescue the little boat filled by his disciples and the way Jesus will also walk on water to save this little ship called Bethlehem, because all who receive him and believe in his name, he gives the power to become the children of God, born not of the blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God (John 1:13).
So we do pray for our daily bread, for we really need it, but we have to put the bread of Life, Jesus Christ first. It is from Jesus that we receive the grace and favor that we can count on. Remember that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. In our family reunion, we again experienced the blessings that God bestowed upon us, because my father and mother’s faith was foremost in their lives. They may have been poor as church mice, but their children, great, and great, great grandchildren are 122 strong with some more on the way. You can only receive Christ in faith, but when you do, you can’t count the blessings that you will see! Amen.
We sang the hymns: “Soon and Very Soon, We’re Going to See the King!” and “Let us Talents and Tongues Employ” which contains the line: “pass the word around: loaves abound!”
 For a detailed account of the Roman patronage system see James S. Ruebel, Caesar and the Crisis of Roman Aristocracy, (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), pages 1-19.