Mathematical Miracle, sermon by Rev. Fred Kinsey
I think we can call the Feeding of the 5,000 a Mathematical Miracle! It is, a miracle story, in the vein of the coming Kingdom or realm of God, revealing to us the singular generosity of God who desires all to be fed, in a world that has ‘enough for all.’
It’s also symbolic in its math. 5 loaves and 2 fish, equal the number 7, or perfection, in Jewish symbolism. The 12 baskets of bread left over, symbolize the fruitfulness of the 12 tribes of Israel, in the new order that Jesus is ushering in. And the 5,000 represent the multiplication of the 5 books of Moses, the Torah, or the greatest gift of God to humanity. (Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8, Anchor Bible, pg. 419)
It’s no wonder, that, besides the Passion narrative at the end, and the Baptism of Jesus in the beginning, the Feeding of the 5,000 is the only other complete story that is recorded in each of the four gospels.
This is also the story we picked to go with our Unity Vision Statement. “Unity’s vision is to be an urban green space, welcoming everyone into a holy encounter, where we are changed, that all may be fed, as Jesus feeds us.”
In the next four weeks we’ll be reading from the Gospel of John, as he unpacks the meaning of, food, eucharist, Torah, manna, welcoming, bread enough for all, and much more, in what’s called the Bread of Life series.
In this Mathematical Miracle we’ve read from Mark today, the first thing that Jesus does is, he takes stock of the way things are: “How many loaves of bread do you have” Jesus asks the disciples? The twelve wanted Jesus to send the crowd away, all 5k+ of them, to go and fend for themselves at the nearest fast-food establishment! What are we supposed to do, they ask? We don’t have any money; and we’d need a half year’s salary to be able to buy enough, for even a meager meal, for all of them!
So, the second thing Jesus does, is to organize them. After he takes stock of ‘the way things are,’ he doesn’t panic when he finds out it’s only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish! He knows, “we” are the ones who will care for our people, the people of God. “And he commanded the disciples to make them all recline, eating-group by eating-group on the green grass. So, the people sat down, cluster by cluster, in groups of, a hundred, and in groups of fifty…” That’s what organizing people, Jesus-style, looks like! Which comes from, believing in what is right, and just, and heaven sent.
This is a story, a Mathematical Miracle, about God providing enough. About feeding regular everyday hungry families. And living in the presence of the kingdom and realm of God, together.
But acceptance of, ‘enough for everyone,’ is threatened by what we might call, Mathematical Misappropriation(malevolence) – the message, and false belief, that we must compete for limited or scarce resources. Mathematical Misappropriation indoctrinates us into an acquisitive competition, that anyone can be a millionaire if they try hard enough. And, if for some reason you’re not, it’s your own darn fault. As if we aren’t already working our tails off! When we buy into this message, we have been co-opted by, Mathematical Misappropriation. But, the millionaires have set up the rules to favor their own advancement, and any concern for ‘enough for everyone’ is somewhere way down the list, subordinate to, self-enrichment.
We are all caught up in it to some extent, unless, we’re actively working against it. Even then, it’s darn near impossible to escape, unless we’re organized to sit people down together, to expect, and demand what God wants to give us – the Mathematical Miracle.
The reason I’m on this hobby-horse this week, is the one, very large example, of, this Mathematical Misappropriation. And that’s, Billionaires blasting off into space! Which is, of course, an amazing mathematical feat, a spectacular achievement, a testament to working hard, like we all do, but in this case, there are only three in the club: Branson, Bezos, and Musk.
Maybe you’ve followed these stories, and are an admirer. And once again, I say, totally spectacular achievement! Miraculous! But for me, I can’t square the gospel circle.
Jeff Bezos, the most recent space traveler, who is 57, has a vision for what he’s doing. It includes creating solar energy to be sent back to earth. Which sounds good, but the reason, he says, is “I’m pursuing this work, because I believe, if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing. I don’t want my great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren to live in a civilization of stasis. We all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change,” he says. But is that really true? Isn’t he talking more about himself? More about a relative few, these days, who get to ‘enjoy the growth and change of a dynamic’ society, a lot more, than most of us! “[S]tasis would be very bad, I think,” Bezos said. And this is where I get very nervous! When one famous person starts to decide what our values should be, all by himself.
In another interview at Cape Canaveral in 2017 he admitted, “I have won this lottery. It’s a gigantic lottery, and it’s called Amazon.com. And I’m using my lottery winnings to push us a little further into space. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do that.”
Upon returning to earth Bezos, the richest man on the planet, who’s been cashing in a billion dollar’s of stock a year to pay for his space program, awkwardly thanked "every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this. Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It's very appreciated," he continued.
Of course, Amazon employees, like the rest of us, don’t have any choice in Bezos’ decision to spend his riches on a tourist ride to space. Neither has Bezos entered into dialog even with his own workers for their pleas for better working conditions, like time enough for a bathroom break, or the ability to form a union. Instead of trusting and organizing together, Amazon surveils its drivers and warehouse workers; and workers quit at nearly twice the rate of other retail jobs.
Bezos is a convenient target, of course. The richest man in the world. And, truth be told, we’re all beholden to the same Mathematical Misappropriation system, to some extent.
So, the gospel message I want to convey is that, we can do something different, something gospel oriented, together. We can listen, and hear, what Jesus is telling us about the Mathematical Miracle that comes from organizing ourselves. First, we have to believe in the Son, the favored child of God, and the Good Shepherd’s goal of “enough for everyone.”
Too often we’re like the disciples, fearful of a world that is hungry, or worse, blaming them, for their plight. Our answer then, is, go away. You can buy something in town if you’re hungry. Why should I help? I’m poor too!
So, following Jesus is full of hard decisions. Believing he is ‘the bread of life’ is more than just ‘liking’ it, on social media. It has to be how we live, and what we live for, too.
Instead of panicking, Jesus organizes us. I’m sure Bezos, Brandon, and Musk have lots to organize in their high-tech quest for space exploration. But that’s not the kind of organizing Jesus is talking about. Billionaires have lots of freedom and little accountability. At least in the 1960’s and 70’s the space race seemed like a national community effort and was paid for by our common fund, the national budget. Private space trips, on the other hand, are not held to any accountable standard, by the people. There is no conversation going on about their singular decisions.
Organizing by Jesus, is community organizing. It comes from the grassroots, who are invested, in our case, in the enterprise of becoming followers, those who are on the way to the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
And so, in the story of the feeding of the 5,000, we can see that, at first, the people arrive in disarray. They’re looking for a shepherd to lead them. The disciples are not quite ready to be organizers yet, so Jesus organizes them, sitting them down, eating-group by eating-group, on the green grass – like the grassy hill of Psalm 23, where the sheep are organized and cared for by the Good Shepherd. Jesus’ order is further envisioned by Mark when he describes the eating-groups as reclining, cluster by cluster, in groups of, a hundred, and in groups of fifty, lined up like those ready to study Torah, God’s Word.
And so, following in the mold of Moses, who organized the Israelites to stay together 40 years on the way to the Promised Land, Jesus organizes us to come together and support one another, to share our food, and trust and know, that God provides enough for all.
In Toni Morrison’s book, Beloved, she describes the transformative power of this belief in a Good Shepherd: “She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”
St. Teresa of Avila said, “God has no hands but our hands.” Which is a lot like our ELCA slogan: God’s Work, Our Hands!
Let us organize ourselves into clusters of eating, and living, and advocacy-groups, believing and trusting in the Mathematical Miracle, of the Feeding of the 5,000, that all may be fed as Jesus feeds us.