12 March 2015

Grace and leftovers

Wayne County, Indiana  
I'm spending about two weeks visiting Friends in Indiana and Ohio. I've not seen some of these people and meetings for at least seven years--and haven't been at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, for almost fifteen years. It's been even longer in the case of Wilmington Friends in Ohio, where Judy and I will be on the 22nd. In these dear communities, aging and death have taken their toll, but already I've enjoyed many joyful reunions over the last few days.

Last Sunday at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, the Scripture lesson was one of the stories of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, from the Good News according to John, 6:1-14 (New International Version):
Some time after this [context], Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
First Friends pastor Derek Parker drew our attention to the "test" that Jesus was giving Philip. Derek suggested that this test was not the kind that was meant to set Philip up with a trick question and subsequent punishment. Jesus is in fact testing everyone present, and us as well. After all, how likely is it that just that one child came with some refreshments tucked away?

I resist interpretations that seem intended to avoid miraculous explanations in favor of a safely "natural" interpretation. But in this case, a generous human response to Jesus' test seems very reasonable. It doesn't prejudice the possibility of miracles in other times and places in the biblical record. (Not to mention the possibility that getting people to share their stashes might have been miraculous in its own right.)

During the adult forum after the meeting for worship, I mentioned that I was struck by another element of the story. I'm sure it's not original with me, but I was intrigued by the twelve baskets of leftovers. If Jesus was truly concerned about waste, he must have had the ability to cause the right amount of food to be produced. Maybe the excess was intended to make this demonstration of his authority more convincing. But my personal feeling is that those twelve baskets of leftovers represent the inability of many of us to accept fully the grace God offers us. We just can't absorb that much grace; we prefer the security of hoarding, or the reassurance of a royal messiah to tell us what to do.

I would like to think that, if I had there, I would have been ready to act truly hungry and truly trusting. The disciples would have had fewer leftovers to collect.

Why Ana Marie Cox is coming out as a Christian.

Peter Enns is preeeetty sure his version of Christianity is right and yours is wrong.

Last week I made some comments about the assassination of Boris Nemtsov. I absolutely have no clue whom to believe about the murder and investigation, and refuse to speculate or to link to the self-serving speculations of others. But I thought this article was helpful in surveying what Russians are saying.

An ecstatic music and a struggling genre ... what will it take to revive the blues market? Suggestions from Richard L'Hommedieu.

A hard-edged presentation of an old classic. (If you don't already like the blues, this might not be the first sample to choose!)

No comments: