We didn’t learn about it all at once. I understand why. We needed time to get to know each other, to develop trust. The church I served on Long Island worked in El Salvador with a group called, UCCES, which stood for the Union of Christian Communities of El Salvador. We had found them through a Presbyterian missionary. Their dedication to the poor inspired us. The Bible studies we did together helped us see the Gospel in new ways. And how they were successfully bringing hope, along with water, electricity and education to very poor communities impressed us.
But as we worked together, we learned how they all had come together. They had fought together. During the civil war that had just ended, they had been soldiers, but not with the government. They had been rebels, revolutionaries, camping out at the legendary rebel mountain, Guazapa. It felt strange to realize that these gentle people with whom we worked had been warriors, guerrillas in a brutal civil war. But while the war was where they had begun, it was not where they had ended up. Together they put down their weapons. They left the war behind. And with the support of the Lutheran Church, they formed their mission to the poor.
Now they still had the same passions that had led them to the rebel mountain. They remained revolutionaries. They had just joined a different revolution, one that could do what the revolution at Guazapa could not. They went with Jesus’ revolution. What was that revolution? Here in this very familiar story, Jesus shows us the way. Let’s listen to what Jesus has to say.
I have heard this story, I can’t tell you how many times, but I never saw it. I never saw what was really happening. On the surface, it looks like such a nice miracle, Jesus hosts a picnic. But so much more is going on here. In this story, Jesus is literally meeting with the revolutionaries, with the guerrillas of his day. But in response to the revolution they want, Jesus gives a very different answer.
To understand what really is going on here, we need to understand what just happened. King Herod has executed John the Baptist. The violent revolutionaries, who want to overthrow the Romans are looking for a new leader to rally around. And now they are looking at Jesus.
Then they hear the news. Jesus is coming. You see, when Jesus and his disciples to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee for some R & R, he is not just going to a remote region. He is going to the Guazapa of Israel, the rural areas where the rebels had their strongholds. So when Jesus pulls up to the shore, he finds thousands waiting for him. But why are they there?
As the gospel of John puts it, they intended to come and make him king by force. And Jesus gets it. It’s why he calls them sheep without a shepherd. Normally the shepherd image means something more pastoral, as in the Lord is my Shepherd, but not here. Jesus is quoting the words Moses prayed before anointing Joshua his successor, “so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” These people are looking for a new Joshua, who will conquer the land for Israel like the old Joshua did. They want a revolution.
But what does Jesus do? In response to thousands ready for a revolution, Jesus teaches and feeds. They want weapons. He gives them word and bread. Jesus is saying. “I’m bringing a revolution, yes, but not the one you expect. You want me to deal out death. But I bring life, life in all its abundance.”
It’s why Jesus called himself the bread of life. Today, bread just means bread, or maybe gluten, if you have that issue. But in Jesus’ day, bread meant life. And when Jesus speaks the word and breaks the bread, he is declaring. I have come to bring life through the words I speak, and the deeds I do.
In teaching them, Jesus is telling them. What you truly hunger for can’t be found in any change of circumstance, even the overthrow of Rome. You need a change of heart, a transformation of mind. And if I don’t address that hunger, no matter what happens outside of you, inside you will be starving to death. So forget the weapons, listen to my words. Only that will fill you at the core. Even the atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre knew this. Famously he said, “That God does not exist, I cannot deny. That my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget.”
But Jesus doesn’t stop there, he backs up his words with deeds, in this case with a miraculous deed. But does Jesus feed these thousands just to impress them, just to wow the crowd? No, Jesus never did miracles as part of a show. If he intended hat, he could have done way better than this. He could have flown loop the loops over the Sea of Galilee. He could have thrown balls of fire from his hands. That would have really wowed the crowd.
But Jesus didn’t do miracles to put on a show, but to show that he had come to restore the world that God had originally intended. William Stringfellow put it this way about Jesus’ healings. “A miracle in healing is not the conjuring of some magic, nor a disruption in the created order or something supernatural. Rather healing exemplifies the redemption of fallen creation, the restoration of the created order, the return to the usual, the normative, the natural.” “Jesus’ miracles aren’t suspensions of the natural order. They’re restorations of the natural order.” (Tim Keller, The Good Shepherd) In this feeding miracle, Jesus is saying. “This is the world God created, where everyone has enough. And this is the world I have come to restore to you.”
But how is Jesus going to bring this revolution? That’s when Jesus’ revolution gets even more shocking. Look at how Jesus works here. Does Jesus create a feast out of thin air? No, Jesus tells his disciples. “You feed them, yes you feed them with the paltry bit of loaves and fish you brought,” And how do they respond? They’re appalled. They say. “That’s impossible.” And they’re right. It is impossible. What they’ve brought is woefully inadequate for the job. But Jesus uses it. In fact, the miracle only happens after he gives the disciples the bread and the fish. What is Jesus saying? He is saying. “I have come to do the impossible with the inadequate through the woefully unequipped. That’s my revolution.”
When the church I served on Long Island began to work on El Salvador, it was ridiculous. We had almost no money. We spoke almost no Spanish. And we were going into a country just out of a brutal civil war, and working with a bunch of former guerrillas. Sheesh. But God worked, and we saw lives transformed. And that work, twenty five years later, is still going strong. And here when we began working in Haiti, it was ridiculous. We had no money. We spoke no Creole. And we were working with a guy who was virtually homeless to help orphaned kids who had an incurable disease. And on top of that, we were pairing up with a synagogue. How was that going to work? But ten years and one devastating earthquake later, that mission is going stronger than ever. Now we are joining up with twenty churches in our county to change a region of millions of people, to reform a government with billions at its disposal? How is that going to work? It’s going to work because that’s how Jesus’ revolution always works. In Jesus’ revolution, only the inadequate are adequate.
How did a few hundred Jesus followers grow over two centuries to where they overturned the Roman Empire? How did Christianity become the world’s largest faith community? It happened because Jesus uses woefully unequipped and inadequate people to do the impossible. That’s how Jesus’ revolution works. And if we look around us at the needs of our community, and at our resources, and go, “We don’t have what it takes.” Guess what. We’re in Jesus’ sweet spot. We are right where he wants us. Yes, we’re inadequate, of course we are. But that just means, we’re ready for Jesus to do the impossible among us. For the work of God is always impossible. That’s what makes it the work of God and not us.
But still how did Jesus bring about his revolution. Every revolution has one crucial moment. Our nation’s was at Lexington and Concord, with the shot heard round the world. What was Jesus’ shot? What set fire to Jesus’ revolution, the revolution of all revolutions? Mark points to it in two simple words. Before Jesus gave the bread to his disciples, he did two things. He blessed and broke. In those two words, Mark is telling us everything.
For in Chapter 14, Mark tells us. Jesus sits down with his disciples for another meal, his very last. And there he takes the bread again, but this time he says, this bread is my body. Then what does Mark tell us happened next. Jesus blessed and he broke, same two words. Those are the words to which Mark points here. Those are the words that mark Jesus’ shot heard round the world.
What was that shot? These people wanted a new Joshua, who would conquer their enemies, and give them the peace for which they yearned. But Jesus is telling them? You want a new Joshua? I am the ultimate Joshua. But I haven’t come to conquer some enemy that will be here for a while and then gone. I have come to conquer the ultimate enemy, the enemy behind all enemies, the enemies of sin and death. And when I do, I will give you the ultimate peace, peace with God, a peace that passes all understanding. So how did Jesus do that? How did Jesus bring about his revolution?
On the cross, his enemies, the ones who had brutalized and then crucified him, were standing around and mocking him. And what Jesus do. He says. “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” Then he bows his head, and gives up his life. He blesses and he breaks. He blessed the people who were killing him and then he broke. And as you see Jesus blessing and breaking on that cross for you, first as your substitute and then as your example, it will bring about a revolution in you. How so?
If you are to eat bread, what do you have to do? You have to break it right? If you don’t break it, then you can’t have it. And without the bread, you’ll starve. You’ll waste away. You’ll break. You’ll fall to pieces. It’s either you or the bread. Either the bread breaks or you do. And what did Jesus call himself? He called himself the bread of life. And Jesus meant it. He broke himself for you. Why, so that as he was broken, you could be made whole. So you could have the bread that endures for eternal life. On that cross, Jesus took all our brokenness, all our injustice, all our evil, and he absorbed it into himself. Why? So that in his brokenness, we would be made whole. When you see that, when you see how profoundly God loves you, how infinitely God values you that will fill the deepest hunger of your heart; that will feed you until you want no more.
But don’t stop there. See how in doing this, Jesus sets the ultimate revolutionary example. What do revolutions do? They overturn the way things are. And on that cross, Jesus did that. We live in a me-first world a world that says, if I’m going to be whole, then you have to get broken for me. Your life broken for me. I step on you to get to the top. That’s how you do it in the world. But Jesus turns the tables. Jesus says. No, it’s my life broken for you. That is how God ordered the universe. That is the way of true fulfillment. That is ultimate reality. And if you live in that reality, the reality of the God who dies for his enemies, that will revolutionize you, it will revolutionize our world. This week, our nation has been focused on Francis, a 78 year old man from Argentina. Why? He lives out of this reality. He washes the prisoners’ feet. He reaches out in love to his enemies. He shows the sacrificial love of Jesus. And just by doing that, he is revolutionizing the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
That’s what the gospel does. It transforms you on the inside as you see what Jesus did for you. And then it turns you out, to do the same for others. And when you do that, it brings about a revolution in the world. That is the revolution that will touch our neighbors’ hearts; that will heal our communities; that will restore our broken world. And if you look at that revolution and find it overwhelming. You’re right where you need to be. Remember. It’s only the inadequate that are adequate. For the work of God is impossible. That’s what makes it the work of God.