St Stephen, Lewisham

27th July 2003

Year B Week 17

"There is a small boy here…


It may come as a surprise to you to learn that, apart from Holy Week, there is only one incident of Jesus’ ministry which is recorded by all four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That event is The Feeding of the Five Thousand which we heard about in the Gospel today.

The fact that all four record it means that they all thought it to be particularly important. St Mark’s Gospel, remember, shows every sign of being written down in great haste as St Peter was telling him, whilst they were both in hiding from the terrible persecution of Christians which was going on in Rome in AD64. At any moment there might be the sound of jackboots in the street and a hammering at the door, with the Imperial Police under orders to arrest every Christian they could find and accuse them of setting fire to the City – a fire which had been started by the Emperor himself. So Peter doesn’t waste his words, and St Mark’s Gospel reads like a breathless tale being told by someone who has half an ear cocked listening for the police. Every other sentence seems to begin with "And immediately…" "And straightaway…" "And then…" …this that or the other happened.

So Mark and Peter don’t waste their time (or ours) with filling in the details. But St John is so keen to fill in some of the things Jesus said that he only covers a few incidents in the first part of his Gospel..

But all four Evangelists realised that the Feeding of the Five Thousand was something central to the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ, and John goes on to record a whole discussion between Jesus and the Jewish people about who he really was and is – the Bread of Life, God Incarnate, the Word made flesh dwelling among us.

Let’s us look at one quite small detail – the young boy who provided the raw material, loaves and fishes, which Jesus used to feed a whole crowd of people. St John is the only one who mentions the boy. Either the other evangelists didn’t know about him or else they thought he we too unimportant to get a mention; but the truth is that. for a few seconds the whole course of Jesus’ plan depended on the willingness or otherwise of that particular boy to co-operate with him.

How often has one heard Christians say that they are too unimportant for anyone, let alone God himself, to take any notice of them. But it is precisely those unimportant people whom God may use to play a key role in his plans for the redemption of mankind. It was the teenage Virgin he invited to be his Mother; it was a young man, possibly St Mark himself, who first discovered the Empty Tomb on Easter morning; it was the twelve-year-old Jesus who made such an extraordinary impression on the staff in the Temple when he had attended his first Passover.

Jesus himself insisted on the importance of taking children seriously. Despising children just because they are children incurred his extreme displeasure. He went on to say that it’s only by becoming like children ourselves that we can properly understand our relationship with God the Father and enter his Kingdom.

In saying this Jesus wasn’t telling us not to use our intelligence. On the contrary many children use their intelligence to the limit – which is more than a great many adults do. So what did he mean by becoming like children?

Let’s return to the small boy in today’s reading. There were two things about his childlike attitude which made him the ideal accomplice. Those two things are summed up in the words Trust and Obey.

In order to get anywhere with children we have to gain their Trust. If they come from the sort of family where mutual respect is the order of the day they are more likely to be both trusting, trustworthy and obedient than if they come from a background where their opinions and ideas have constantly been ridiculed by their parents or elders. People like St Andrew who brought not only the boy but the Greeks and his own brother Peter to Jesus seem to have the knack of relating to children. We have him to thank for the boy’s trust in handing over his own lunch-basket to Jesus. But for whatever reason the boy decided that Jesu was someone he could trust.

One can just imagine him weighing it up, and giving Jesus a long, thoughtful look, and saying to himself "well I may lose my lunch and be hungry, but this man Jesus is asking for it so there must be some reason behind it!"

So he decided to obey Jesus and hand over his loaves and fishes – and from that moment onwards he became known as The Boy who Provided the Stuff for the Miracle which Jesus used as the very central point of his teaching about himself as the Bread of Life.

If there’s one lesson to be learnt from this episode it is that there are no such things as Ordinary Persons or Ordinary Things. Anything and anyone may find him- or her- or it-self being drawn in to the great process of the Redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m afraid that this truth will come as something of a shock to anyone who wants nothing more from Jesus than to be allowed, as they say, "go on being themselves". That’s the one thing that God will never allow us to do so long as we are willing to obey him. God knows that "going on being myself" is the surest way of turning into the sort of monstrosity which will only feel at home in Hell. Hell is largely populated by people who, in the face of all God’s plans for them, insist on going on being themselves.

Think about the Bread of Life which we receive in the Eucharist. Imagine for a moment that you are one of those wafers which we use for the Mass. As a wafer you at least know what and where you are. You’re just like any other wafer, not worth much, but in that sense you’re in good company.

Now imagine God telling you that he wants turn you into something entirely different – he wants you to be the means whereby he conveys the Body of Christ to his faithful people. Can’t you imagine yourself saying "Leave me alone! I only want to be a wafer! What have I done to deserve this? I never asked to be anything but a wafer!".

Precisely. But what if your child said "I never want to be any different. I never want to grow up. I never want to be useful to anyone. I never want to use the body which you and God have given me. I just want to be left alone". Wouldn’t you, as his parent, be seriously worried? They say that anorexia nervosa the disease which leads young people to starve themselves, is due to their unwillingness to grow up.

So next time you find yourself saying "I just want to be myself" remember that young boy St John wrote about who trusted and obeyed. In words of that hymn:

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey!

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