After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’
Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Excerpt from God Has a Dream
Dear Child of God, do you realize that God needs you? Do you realize that you are God’s partner? When there is someone hungry, God wants to perform the miracle of feeding that person. But it won’t any longer be through manna falling from heaven. Normally, more usually, God can do nothing until we provide God with the means, the bread and the fish, to feed the hungry. When a person is naked, God wants to perform the miracle of clothing that person, but it won’t be with a Carducci suit or Calvin Klein outfit falling from heaven. No, it will be because you and I, all of us, have agreed to be God’s fellow workers, providing God with the raw material for performing miracles.
There is a church in Rome with a statue of Christ without arms. When you ask why, you are told that it shows how God relies on us, His human partners, to do His work for Him. Without us, God has no eyes; without us, God has no ears; without us, God has no arms. God waits upon us, and relies on us.
A couple of weeks ago, I returned home one day to find my wife in tears, sitting on our living room sofa with our laptop open in front of her. Looking up, she said, “You’ve got to see this!” It was a YouTube video recorded in the Spanish city of Sabadell. For the first time ever, I wish we had a video screen in this church so I could show it to you instead of describing it. In this video, a man, dressed in a tuxedo and holding a large double bass, is standing out in the town plaza with an empty hat in front of him. After a moment, a little girl, probably about five years old, walks up and drops a few coins into the hat. The man with the bass immediately starts playing a tune. After a moment, a woman walks up behind him with a cello, sits down in a chair, and starts to play along with him. A moment later, a couple of violins and a bassoonist appear. By now we’ve begun to recognize the tune as the choral finale from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, better known as The Ode to Joy. One by one, every few seconds, another musician emerges from the crowd and joins the growing orchestra. By the end, there is a full symphony with chorus in the plaza, belting out this most beautiful and memorable piece of music above the din of the crowds and traffic. The people who have gathered to listen are either singing along, dancing, weeping, or just standing there with their mouths hanging open.
What I love most about this video is how it reminds me of the story we just read from John’s gospel, where Jesus feeds the crowd of five thousand people with only a few loaves and fish. In that story, the loaves and fish came from a kid who had brought them along for his lunch. Just like the little girl in the video, this boy’s small offering triggered a pre-arranged event that transformed an ordinary moment into a miracle. All that was needed was one small gesture of generosity to set things in motion.
That is so like God.
People tend to have this idea about God as this all-powerful “sky wizard” who can do anything and everything. God just sits on a cloud all day, controlling every little thing that happens. For this kind of God, human free will is kind of an afterthought. In fact, it doesn’t even really matter at all. We’re all just pawns in a chess game to that kind of God. But that’s not the God we read about in this week’s Bible reading and it’s not the God that Desmond Tutu tells us about in this week’s chapter of God Has A Dream.
The God that Jesus reveals to us in this passage from John’s gospel is the God who actively invites human participation in the ongoing process of creation and redemption. This God makes a special point of going out of the way to include contributions from the members of society who matter the least (in the world’s eyes). The author of John’s gospel goes out of the way to mention that the loaves and fish used by Jesus came from a boy’s lunch. John’s gospel is the only one of the four that mentions this point. It’s no small detail.
Children, in the ancient world, were not typically the objects of affection that they are today. We tend to idealize childhood and give special attention to our kids, but in the ancient world, a child was just another mouth to feed until she or he was old enough to work. In that world, many children died before the age of five, so most parents would hesitate to get too attached to a child who they weren’t sure would survive. That’s why it’s such a big deal that Jesus was the kind of person who went out of his way to bless children and value their presence, like he did in today’s gospel reading. Jesus was probably one of the only adults to do so in his society. To everyone else, children were nothing but a nuisance, but Jesus saw them for the human beings that they are. That’s why, on another occasion, he made a special point of welcoming children and blessing them when his disciples were trying to send them away. It must have blown their minds the first time Jesus held up a child as the role model for pure faith!
The God who Jesus reveals is a God who works with us, in us, and through us. And, by us, I mean all of us, from the greatest to the least. This God is not some distant “sky wizard” who treats people like chess pieces. This God sees human beings as partners. This is what Desmond Tutu calls us in his book. You and I are “God’s partners”. He goes even further to call us “God carriers”. He says: “In the Christian point of view, our God is one who took our human nature… You don’t have to go around looking for God. You don’t have to say, “Where is God?” Everyone around you—that is God.”
Personally, I like that idea of us being “God carriers”. It kind of makes God look like a virus that spreads from person to person until the whole world is infected. That might not sound very pleasant at first, but imagine a kind of virus that, instead of making you sick, makes you healthier. Imagine a virus that gives life instead of taking it. A virus is the smallest kind of life form that transforms its host from the inside out. It gets passed around through little moments of contact, like a touch or a kiss. Pretty soon, it takes over the world.
Isn’t that what God is like? That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” A little later, Jesus made the same point again: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” In both of these parables, something small and insignificant grows and grows until it transforms its environment from the inside out. That’s how God works in the world. God does not impose God’s will on the world by coercion from the outside. No, God brings about God’s will in the world by persuasion from the inside. Do you get the difference? It’s subtle but important. Coercion forces another person to do what you want. Persuasion invites another person to join you. Coercion takes away a person’s freedom. Persuasion respects freedom. Coercion changes only the outward circumstances. Persuasion changes the heart. Our God, the God of Jesus and Desmond Tutu, works from within. God is transforming the world from the inside out and we, you and I, are all invited to be God’s partners in this project.
God is a virus. And you and I? We’re carriers. Our job is to spread the God virus until the whole world is infected. Every little moment of contact, every good deed, every gesture of compassion, every random act of kindness, and every senseless act of beauty, no matter how small or unnoticed: each of these contributes to God’s ongoing vision of changing the world from the inside out. You are all “God carriers.” You are all God’s partners.
I want to invite you to go out into the world this morning like the little boy from our gospel reading or the little girl from that YouTube video. Go out with your little offering, your loaves and fish or your pocket change, and offer that up in the full and conscious faith that your little gift is really part of God’s big idea, God’s dream. Know that you, in your small and intentional acts of kindness, are offering up to God the raw materials out of which miracles are made. You might never know what kind of impact your life will have, but, like a small stone dropped into a large pond, the effects of your actions will become ripples that eventually reach to the farthest shore of eternity. No life is insignificant and no person is without dignity for we are all God’s partners in the task of transforming the world from the inside out.