Pentecost 9B, 2012

John 6:1-21

A Liturgy is also available


"Australian households throw out $5.2 billion worth of food annually,
according to a 2009 study by The Australia Institute - and that figure
doesn't take into consideration how much
is thrown out by shops" (Lucien Alperstein 2012).

From all that we now seem to know about biblical culture,

meals played an important role in both community life,

and in the Jesus Movement tradition.

Indeed, Christian Jews regularly ate together,

even before they began to conduct worship services.

While on the other hand, Jesus seems so closely associated with meals

that one of the criticisms leveled against him was, you will remember,

as a ‘glutton and drunkard’  (Matt 11:19).

Which stands in sharp contrast to the pale and sanitised artwork

most church stained glass windows depict him as.

I remember… and let me warn you,

today there just may be a bit of ‘remembering’…

I remember when I was working in a regional newspaper in Victoria

as a news editor in the mid 1970s,

I wrote a feature story for new year with the title: “Here’s cheers, JC.”

The article carried a sketch of a bearded man of middle-eastern appearance,

laughing, and raising a wine glass in toast, in his hand.

A mother of one of our paper boys was angered by this ‘laughing Jesus’ image.

So angry, she refused to allow her son to continue

to deliver the paper, and wrote me

one of the most vitriolic letters I have ever received.

The possibility that Jesus might have laughed, or had a wine with his meal,

never entered her head!  Thank goodness

the biblical storytellers reckoned otherwise!

But back to this morning’s story…

This story appears in all four gospels.

All slightly different, but the plot is very similar in all.

So it has a strong ‘storytelling’ tradition about it.

I reckon each storyteller heard some of these meal stories, often from what

we now call the Q Source, and re-imagined or re-invented them.

For they knew the power of a good story.

“Words and food are made out of the same stuff”, writes Rubem

Alves. “They are both born of the same mother: hunger”  (Alves 1990:77).


I have some very fond memories about this story in general.

Indeed it was the focus of one of the first sermons I ever preached.

I remember I was inspired at the time by the work of Scottish

New Testament scholar William Barclay, having been given

several copies of his red-backed paperback commentaries

by my former parish minister.

And if my memory is still functioning OK, Barclay sets out three ways folk

have heard or responded to this story.

As a supernatural event of bread being multiplied.

As a sacramental meal, where each got a small piece of bread.

As a different kind of ‘miracle’ – (I think he used that word)

where people’s hearts rather than bread, were changed.

Perhaps you can guess, but it was the third suggestion which made sense to me.

Although some of the folk in my little Home Mission congregation

of Pascoe Vale North, weren’t too sure about me afterwards!

So for me, this story is not about

an interventionist supernatural God, or as a forerunner to Holy Communion,

or the Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’,

which was where my ‘non-laughing-Jesus’ mother was coming from.

But everything to do with re-imagining the world

and our relationships with others.

For around a meal, food is shared not hoarded,

friendships are made, and

relationships strengthened.

And the work of the prophet,

as Jesus was indentified by John’s version of this story,

is to encourage folk to see that and live by that.


In the stories told about Jesus and in the words attributed to him,

Jesus presents the realm of God as a new or alternate possible reality,

to the world in which many found themselves trapped in.

It contradicted the normal notions of

who belonged and who did not,

of who was worthy and who was not.

It’s contradiction was given expression by the way people lived

- that is, open to being changed by the ‘worth’

rather than the perceived ‘worthlessness’ of the other.

So as in this morning’s story, we see and hear Jesus inviting ordinary folk to join him

in the struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.

To imagine and experience a different kind of world.

And one of the first steps in re-imagining a different kind of world

to the existing dominant social order,

was to overturn the ‘world’ of the disciples.

Jesus, tell them to go away so they might buy food themselves, said the disciples.

Friends, tell them to sit down and let’s share what we already have, says Jesus.

Ugh!  You sure?

When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes body.

Our body.

When bread is shared and eaten, it becomes compassionate deeds.

Our compassionate deeds.

When bread is shared and eaten, compassionate deeds

become as God in our neighbour.

Or put another way, what we believe about God and neighbour and relationships,

can make a huge difference to how we care for each other interpersonally.

Especially if our local communities can be developed positively

around respect and care and worth for each other,

rather than around fear of a so-called ‘enemy’.


I remember a story I heard a few years ago.

The whole family went out for dinner one evening.

Menus were passed to all including Kathy, the eight-year old daughter.

The conversation was an ‘adult’ one, so Kathy sat ignored.

When the waiter took orders, he came to Kathy last.

“And what do you want?” he asked.  “A hamburger and a coke,” she said.

“No,” said her grandmother, “she’ll have the roast chicken, carrots, and mashed potatoes.”

“And milk to drink,” chimed in her father.

“And what kind of sause would you like on your hamburger?” asked the waiter

as he walked away, taking the parents aback.

“Tomato,” she called out.

She then turned to her family and added, “You know what?  He thinks I’m real!”


“Since the beginning of time,” my favourite author, Robert Fulghum, writes, “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another, have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship...

“Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together”  (Fulghum 1995:81-82).

The gospel storytellers know we become what we eat!

So let me offer this final suggestion…

This story is an invitation to re-imagine and to celebrate.

And in so doing, to be blessed, as we seek to go on the journey

first chartered by the Galilean sage we call Jesus.


Alves, R. A. 1990. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. PA: Philadelphia. Trinity Press International.

Fulghum, R. 1995. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of Our Lives. NSW: Moorebank. Bantam Books.
Lucien Alperstein. "Dumster Diver" in Sunday Life, 17 June 2012, 12-13.