Proper 12: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
This week we twinned our fridge (having already through the auspices of TearFund twinned out toilets and rubbish bins). Our fridge is never unintentionally empty, there is always enough food in the house for us to eat. We have never experienced the hunger that comes from not knowing where your next meal will come from. Twinning our fridge is a reminder to us that we are in world terms, exceptionally fortunate and that at the very least we should be willing to contribute towards the cost of feeding those who know real hunger.
Hunger world wide is often not the result of over population, nor even of drought or floods – although this is increasing as countries increasingly experience the impacts of climate change. Most hunger arises from war (as we are seeing currently in Tigray, Syria and Yemen) and from unequal access to and sharing of, resources. Since the mid 1960s all parts of the world have been producing sufficient food to allow every person in every country to have 2000 calories a day. However within many countries the sharing of that food means that between a third and a half of the population do not receive that fair share.
Even here in the UK people go hungry, not because there is not enough food to go round, but because they do not have enough money.
Even here in the UK many people put up with hunger because they don’t have the money to buy food and their lack of money stems from a unequal sharing of the nation’s wealth. UK households waste 4.5m tonnes of food a year that could have been eaten, worth £14bn – ie the average family spends £700 a year on food it does not eat, whilst 1 in 8 people go hungry. in the last year 2.5 million people used on of the UK’s food banks.
What is the problem?
Today’s psalm tells how all God’s works – ie everything human and creaturely that God has created – praises God. In praising God, these ‘works’ reveal the glory of God’s kingdom and God’s power. And they do this so that the people may know God’s power and recognise God’s dominion. The Psalmist sees dominion as being of God – not of humans – and that because of God’s power and dominion there is food enough for all to eat. Any problems due to food shortages are not God’s problem.
The reading from 2 Kings about Elisha was one I was completely unfamiliar with. It is a story brimming with interest. It begins with a person bringing to Elisha, a man of God, their first fruits in the shape of twenty loaves of barley bread and a sack full of ears of grain – probably barley. The first fruits were those first to be harvested, and as is clear here, it is the barley crop that is first to be harvested. According to Leviticus 23:20, the first fruits would be given to the priest who would offer them to God. This offering was a way of thanking God, the ultimate provider of food. So here the farmer is bringing bread and grain to give thanks for God’s generosity.
Normally such food would then be available for the priests to eat. But here Elisha – who probably in the context of the Book of Kings counts as a priest – does not keep the bread and the grain for himself. Rather he shares them with the people. Food offered to God, is eaten not just by God’s holy man but by everyone – or according to the servant, by a minimum of 100 people. This a sharing of God’s food with God’s people and there is more than enough.
The first grain to be harvested each year is the barley, so it is likely that if this offering of the first fruits is as described in Leviticus, that it takes place during the Passover – and the bread presumably would therefore have been unleavened.
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians is equally bowled over by the riches of God’s glory. It is a glory which manifests itself in the power experienced by the believers in Ephesus through the Spirit and through the presence of Christ in their hearts which allows them to grow in love and faith. The writer, like the Psalmists, talks of every family on earth – every being – as being in a relationship with God. It is a parental relationship in which they may experience fullness of God which is exemplified by the height, length and depth of Christ’s love.
John’s gospel does not have a specific description of the blessing and sharing of bread and wine at the last supper. Rather these actions are present within many of the episodes throughout the gospel. Today’s story takes place on the verge of the feast of Passover and concerns the blessing and sharing of bread. A large crowd that needs to be fed. Philip – and maybe some of the other disciples too – sees the problem as one of money. Andrew looks at what food they have to hand – the packed lunch of one small boy – and likewise sees a shortfall. And note, the writer of John’s gospel is quite specific that these are loaves of barley bread. In Jesus’s hands this offering does indeed feed the crowd – crowd not 100 but 5000! There is enough food – and more to spare – to feed God’s people.
The problem of hunger is not a lack of money nor a lack of food but a failure to share both these resources in a God-given way – with thanksgiving. When we share bread together at the Eucharist is should remind us not just of God’s love and generosity to us, giving us both food and the gift of Christ the living bread, but also that we too are meant to ensure everyone is fed.
as we are fed by your generosity,
so may we feed others
for so is the kingdom of God