In an embrace of traditional values, adult enrollment is up at many charm schools. For social gatherings, ladies are instructed on how to accessorize their body types to make an impressionable first entrance. For University functions, students are taught how to intone a positive vocal image to outclass their classmates. For corporate events, gentleman learn how to extend a handshake to project an executive level presence.
But of all the soft skills of success, every finishing program ultimately ends up in the dinning room where the food is never mashed, lipstick never marks the stemware, and tea is only sipped with the pinky finger in. That to graduate as prim and proper, mealtime etiquette matters most.
Since the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story recorded in all four gospels, what happens around the table, apparently, matters an awful lot to God as well. So, in today’s text from John, the question for our discussion is, what’s the miracle?
John 6:5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward 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.”
The boy gives out of his poverty modeling generosity for the crowd.
God does so much with so little.
There’s always abundance when God is involved.
When the hungry are fed, heaven comes to earth.
On February 1, 1960, Franklin McCain and three other students from North Carolina A&T University sat down for lunch in Greensboro. At the whites only counter, they politely asked for service and were roundly denied. The manager pointed towards the exit and the police officer tapped his mallet. It appeared that the only thing being served that day was either a trip to jail in handcuffs or a trip to the cemetery in a pine box. Regardless, the four students refused to stand up from their sit-in.
2000 years ago, the Holy Land was segregated too, especially at meal times. Chair assignments were hierarchical, bigger the reputation, better the seat of power. Food was the same, veil and merlot for the prince, lentils and water for the pauper. If you’re an honored guest, then please recline on the comfort of the couch. Dismissible servants can labor on their feet out back.
If every inch of tablecloth is contested territory, then Jesus’ most subversive act was to undermine the Segregationists, to destroy the proper dinning room etiquette by inviting the non-observant Jew and the Palestinian peasant, the unbelieving brother and the adulterous woman, the high heeled hooker and the sawed- off tax collector all to be his table companions.
Eating his way through the Gospels on nearly 50 separate occasions, the glutton of grace prepares his banquet on an equalitarian plot of grass, abolishing the seating chart of old. He distributes loaf and fish equally, undermining any sense of superiority. He tells the crowd to sit down because in the kingdom’s kitchen, only the host serves and only God occupies the head position.
The miracle of our Lord and Savior is that he eats with the wrong people.
Church, John has no institution of the Last Supper. Instead, the evangelist knew that commensality communicates theology like nothing else. That what we do with our food is the most faithful language we speak, the most traditional of Christian values. And so we are left with breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, 21 times a week and almost 1100 invitations a year to practice our deplorable decorum, our terrible table manners in the name of the one who never did graduate from charm school.