After our trip on Galilee we went to the Church of Multiplication which commemorates the story of the feeding of the five thousand and were able to reflect on that story before going into the church which has a very famous mosaic of the fish and bread.
The story of the feeding of the five thousand helps us to explore the fundamentals of Jesus’ mission. On this occasion Jesus addresses their physical need for food, but he does not do so in order to attract those who will follow someone with unusual powers. His kingship is something very different from the kind that would normally respond to the demands of a crowd. The challenge is to respond to the actual physical needs, and so demonstrate appropriate care, without projecting a cult of the spectacular.
While we were in Galilee we stayed at Pilgerhaus Tabgha, close to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. On our second evening there we shared a service of Holy Communion at which I had the opportunity to preach and used John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand as the text.
As we were in Advent I reflected on the pregnancies of Elizabeth and Mary and their readiness to respond to God’s call, asking the question as to what we, in our turn are doing with God’s call. As Christina Rossetti's carol asks:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him – give my heart.
The boy whose story is told in John 6 gave his lunch. We might wonder what God is asking us to give, but can be sure that he does not ask us to give something that we have not got, nor does he ask us to do something that we cannot do. Some folk worry that they are unable to do what God asks of them, but that will not be so. It is also interesting to reflect on what happens if we give what God asks. In the case of the boy and his lunch, there were twelve baskets of leftovers collected. It is, of course, no coincidence that there were twelve disciples, each of whom were given a collecting task. God did not waste any of that opportunity. If we respond to God’s call, then God will bless our response. We ought also to note that, though God sometimes asks big things of us, the small things are also immensely valuable.
To return to the story of the two pregnant women, Elizabeth greeted Mary by saying, “Blessed are you!” For one possibility, can we, like Elizabeth, offer a word to those who carry a heavy burden?