I’m just back from three weeks’ holiday and I am happy to say that it was a great holiday. We had lots of family and sunshine and good food in France and in Yorkshire, and in Aberdeenshire we had peace and lovely scenery to enjoy.
To begin with we were in Picardy, a part of France that is renowned for having a wonderful farming community, a place abundant with flowers and fruits and vegetables and that was reflected in the shops and markets, baskets overflowing with lovely things! And we were happy to sample a good number of them, and one or two pastries and breads into the bargain!
And then on the way north towards Aberdeen we passed field after field of fruit and vegetables; baskets piled at the edge of fields all picked and ready to go to the shops or the factories to make jams and jellies and pies and desserts. I was struck by the greenness of the fields, the wild flowers in profusion and, on a walk through an interesting wetland in Royal Deeside, by the amazing diversity of dragonflies and butterflies and other flying biting things. We had to watch out for frogs underfoot, for slow worms or lizards, all sorts of incredible wildlife all around us.
The word that comes to mind is ‘generosity’. The world is overflowing with God’s amazing generosity. I have to say that God was rather over generous with the rain on one or two occasions but maybe that’s more our fault than his!
Throughout the Bible we read of God’s generosity. From the book of the prophet Isaiah we read about God’s generous mercy:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”
God’s generous mercy is for all people.
In our reading from the Psalms we heard how God will care for us, will guard us and keep us. We hear how his generous love doesn’t waver or wane.
And in our New Testament Reading we heard of that famous miracle. Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand. Five thousand was a very conservative estimate in fact because many of those five thousand men would be there with their wives and children or other family members, so many more than five thousand even! And all were fed! God’s amazing generosity fed all of those people. The biggest picnic ever!
I love picnics and each year, as a family, we used to plan a picnic. We would choose a venue, usually one where there was some shelter in case of rain, and we would just let all our family and friends know where the picnic was going to be and ask them to join us if they could. Each year it would be a different group because each year different folks were able to come. Sometimes there were loads of us and sometimes only a few. Sometimes it was rainy but mostly the sun shone for most of the day and we would share food and fun together. Everyone went home tired, full up and happy. We didn’t ever organise the food because we simply told everyone to bring something nice to eat and drink and when it came time for eating we all opened our baskets and shared what we had. There was always far too much food. And strangely enough there was always a real mix. Plenty of all the right things, sweet and savoury, bought and baked and it was always just a bit different each year depending on who was able to come. Each year I worried about whether we would have enough and each time I had been worrying for nothing because of the generosity of the people who came.
Jesus performed a number of miracles and the most striking of them are documented here for us, in the pages of our Bibles. We are very modern and clever these days. What do we think really happened? Are we able to believe in miracles any more, or are we too scientific?
Well, there are at least two schools of thought on this particular miracle story. Some scholars believe that the feeding of the five thousand was a psychological miracle. what do I mean by that? Well some believe that what happened on that day was that each one in the crowd probably had a picnic with them. They had gone following Jesus, they were desperate to hear what he had to say to them. The Bible tells us that the people saw Jesus on the lake and rushed around on foot from the towns and villages so that they could be there just as he hit land with his disciples.
The story reminded me of my mother during the summer holidays from school. We used to go out to play in the morning and come back when we were hungry but we were rarely hungry at lunchtime because either my mother sent us off with a picnic or came and found us in the woods or by the shore with something good in her bag for us to eat. We were never in danger of going without food! Don’t you think that someone in each home would be thinking about food and putting together something that they could travel with, just a little food and drink in case they were away for a while?
Or maybe, as the day grew later and women folks were waiting for their families to return, they did just as my mother used to: set off with supplies to make sure that no one went hungry or thirsty.
So what was the miracle? Well, maybe each person there did indeed have a wee picnic with them, but was afraid to admit to it and bring out their food in case they had to share and there wouldn’t be enough to go around; but their minds were changed and they were shamed when they saw Jesus being prepared to share what little he and his disciples had—five small loaves and two fish—and they opened their packs and began to share …. an outpouring of love and generosity in response to the generosity of Jesus Christ …. now that may be the way that it happened.
Or it may well have been a different kind of miracle, the kind where something appears literally out of nothing. You decide. Either way it was a miracle. Jesus was perfectly capable of doing either of these things!
But which is the most difficult to believe and which was the most difficult to perform?
Some of those who have plumped for the psychological miracle say that this explanation helps to disprove the divinity of Jesus Christ. They say that he wasn’t God’s Son, just a very clever psychologist. Given the time in history that Jesus was on earth and his humble origins that seems to me to be even more ridiculous than believing that he could conjure up enough food for five thousand plus people out of nothing! And so if Jesus was using psychology to feed the crowd it was no less amazing! Trying to persuade people to share what they have is just about the most difficult thing in the world! The feeding of the five thousand was a miracle. No matter whether the food appeared from nowhere or out of the packs of the people there, it was still incredible. Jesus took his five loaves and two fishes and blessed the food, knowing, hoping that all there would share what they had. A risky business! What would he have done if it hadn’t worked?
Opening people’s hearts to care for others is a risk. Opening our wallets or our packs and sharing the good things we each have is a risk for us all. BUT God’s generosity is such that we are called to share what we have with others not just our worldly goods but our love. and our compassion and our friendship. And isn’t it interesting that it is often those who have the least that are prepared to share or even to give away the little they have to others in need. A survivor of the Holocaust tells the story of a childhood friend of his who once found a raspberry in the camp. His friend wrapped the raspberry in a leaf and carried it around till she met him and at the end of the day presented her gift to him. Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it away to a friend!
I don’t know what happened to either of the people in that story but you can bet that seemingly small act of love and generosity changed both of their lives.
So today I invite you to thank God for the wonderful generosity of his creation. For the blessings that we have all received. Yes, there have been and will be again, difficult times for us all. Yes, our world is facing many difficulties and huge problems but if we lift our eyes to the hills for help and open our hearts in love and faith God’s generous love will support us, he will not let our feet slip, he will guard our coming and our going in from this time and for evermore.