“In the beginning you created me from nothing and honoured me with your divine image…” sings one of the hymns in the Memorial Service. So also in Liturgy at the Great Prayer of the Anaphora: “You brought us into being out of nothing…” But the Anaphora of St. Basil has this: “For having made man by taking dust from the earth…” Which is right? From nothing or from dust of the earth? Clearly the Liturgy of St. Basil has it right. That’s Genesis 2: “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.” God can and does create out of nothing, but more often than not he prefers to use what is available – it’s the natural order of evolution, after all.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
God promised he would send them bread from heaven, but did you notice the instruction he gave? Gather every day what you need for that day – “Give us this day our daily bread” – but on the sixth day they should gather a double portion so as to have enough for the sabbath, the seventh day. Beautiful economics – no excess, and enough to also honour the sabbath law against work.
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And the people gathered, some more, some less. But he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; each gathered according to what he could eat. Now the house of Israel called its name manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
Was it bread that God rained down from heaven? Most likely it was some sort of natural phenomenon that God used to provide “bread” for the people. It doesn’t matter. The miracle was in the balance that God ordained – just enough quail and manna to sustain the people, and also honour God’s holy commandments. God uses what is available.
The story of the feeding of the thousands that we read today shows God’s management style. He doesn’t magically create food out of nothing; he uses the resources available. In the sharing, the food multiplies and feeds thousands of men, women and children. In the sharing, the miracle happens. This is undoubtedly the point of this gospel story. There is no emphasis on the miraculous. The emphasis is on the dialogue with the disciples and the actions of Jesus: he looked to heaven, he blessed and broke the loaves and gave to the people. And there was plenty left – 12 baskets of leftovers were gathered up! Sharing is the message to us: Share what you have and don’t worry whether you will have enough.
Whose bread and fish did Jesus use? It’s unclear in our reading today; but in John’s Gospel it’s a boy who has five barley loaves and two small fish. The boy and his family were probably bringing the bread and fish home from the market, but stopped to hear Jesus teach. Did they object when Jesus took the loaves? No, and thus became partners to the miracle. We do not perform miracles; but we can become partners in the miracles that God performs every day!
And God’s management style should also be the church’s management style. Small is good.
Neil Armstrong understood small when he stepped on to the surface of the moon on that momentous day 49 years ago this weekend. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was a small step for him to step off the lander module lander on to the surface of the moon; but it was a giant leap for humankind, a leap whose consequences created the modern world we are living in today.
Small is good. Small is beautiful, as one bestselling book announced in the early 1970s, a time of growing ecological awareness – an awareness that many people prefer to reject in our small-minded days. It’s okay to be small – but not small-minded. Small can become great when we share, when we’re open to others, when love grows in our midst and overflows to others.
The question for us today is this: Are we small because that’s all we deserve to be, wrapped up in our small-mindedness? Or are we small in an honourable, loving, open way? Then small is indeed beautiful, and that’s a good message to take from today’s Gospel reading.