the menu | John 6.7-10
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough 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 for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. John 6.7-10 | ESV
Philip went ahead and answered, overwhelmed at the prospect: “Over half a year’s wages would only buy enough for each person here just to get a bite! Are you crazy?” Overhearing this exchange, another follower, Andrew, Simon’s brother (you know, Peter) took a quick inventory and adds, “Hey, this wee lad here has five wee barley loaves and two wee salted fish, which is fine for a boy’s lunch, but how can this even begin to touch all that need?” Now Jesus spoke up. “Have everyone sit down.” And while the area might have been deserted, it was by no means barren – there was all kinds of green grass in the place; more of a meadow really. Green pastures. So everyone sat down, and the disciples got a quick head count of all the men, anyway. Five thousand-ish. MAV
One question, testing the faith-imagination of two men.
Both fail, but one at least leaves a crack in the door to impossible possibilities by a simple, “You know, Lord.” But Philip just calculates and concludes, “This ain’t happening.”
Andrew at least does the inventory and asks, perhaps half-way wistfully, “What are these among so many?” which is very close to “What could these be among so many?”
The two linked signs in John chapter six share one common denominator: they reveal our shared tendency to calculate and think ourselves into a corner (or into the water over our heads) rather than to be and stay open to the impossible possibilities right before us. Thanks to this tendency, these two stories lose all impact on many for the simple reason they are dismissed out of hand because the stories simply do not compute rationally, logically. 200 denarii + 5 barley bread sticks + 2 or 3 salted sardines ≠ 5,000 people.
They’re simply the wrong factors in a bad equation.
Though notice how Jesus embraces two of those factors: the barley bread sticks and the salted sardines. The poor man’s dinner. Barley bread was regarded as the lowest, and with dried, salted fish (really, think sardines rather than rainbow trout). We’re not talking delicacies here. We’re talking common food for a common table. But it’s naturally what they have, so it’s what Jesus uses.
Nice seating? Fancy place settings? No. But green grass to recline upon and an all-you-can eat barley bread and sardines menu.
How slow we are to grasp that the factors we would automatically dismiss from our faith equations are the very ones that God will employ.
And he changes the operation too; we get hung up on what doesn’t add up (and we really like division, too); he’s in the business of multiplication. Oh the lessons we can learn if, with the crowd and the disciples, we will recline on the green grass, and let a young boy open his lunch sack.
And then watch what God does with and in it all…
When most recently has God done something, in your life or in the life of someone close to you, that defies all calculation and prognostication?
Deliver me from what I think are fool-proof calculations into the realm of faith and imagination that transcend all calculations. Teach me the rhythms of such a divine economy; to make available what I have, be it poor or powerful in my or others’ eyes, and to watch what you do with it. Through Jesus.