Jesus feeds the multitudes and calms the seas John 6:1-21
Text: Omar Westendorf (1916-1997) Tune: Robert Kreuz (1922-1996)
(For reasons of copyright, I won't put the text here, but you can read it and hear it here)
We can live without many things, but water is necessary. We are hearing now that some Iranians are rebelling because they don’t have enough water. And the Upper Midwest is low on rain which could mean low on food. After water, we need food. We can live much longer without food than without water, but famine, usually caused by lack of water, cannot be endured for long. The Bible is filled with rain and famine stories. Much of the story of Israel has to do with people starving and immigrating to Egypt for food.
Two chapters before this, Jesus has promised the Samaritan woman water that will quench her thirst for ever and she wants it. Give me some of that!
Now he has been preaching and people have come to receive from him the water and food of life that his words give. But they are also flesh and blood and need food. They probably have brought along their own supplies of water.
A concerned Thomas asks the master how on earth Jesus is going to feed the multitudes. They don’t have enough money to buy much. Faithful Andrew brings the boy with two fish and five barley loaves and the people are told to sit down on the grassy fields. Jesus then multiplies the meal of the boy into enough for over five thousand. A miracle! Even twelve baskets of bread are left over. The people see immediately that Jesus is the prophet who has come into the world.
These miracles show that Jesus knows our needs, both of the flesh and spirit. We cannot live without bread, which our Father supplies to us through rain and sunshine, but we cannot live by bread alone.
The rulers of the Roman Empire were accused by the poet Juvenal (ca. 100 AD) of keeping the people from rebelling by giving them bread and circuses. He detested the corruption in the government and the flaccid weakness of the people for accepting this. It was not enough. Christians spreading the good news around the world at this time were successful not only because of their generosity of food and care for their neighbors, but also their testimonies which the Spirit sparked into faith. Christianity exploded across the Roman Empire. The bread they offered was everlasting and fed the spirits of the people.
His bread changed the world. And continues to. People in the West today, who, generally speaking, have enough food, are dying for lack of spiritual nourishment. You can see it in their faces. The church needs to preach this and dole out the food that feeds us for an eternity.
We are in some way still isolated. I have heard from people who tell me, not surprisingly, they cannot sleep for anxiety, their stomachs are churning with GERDs and other nervous upsets. Things feel out of control and many, too many, have tried to medicate their sorrows and fears with drugs or alcohol. The numbers of suicides and overdoses is higher than ever. And in fact have been worse among the young than any COVID 19 deaths have been. I realized the other day as I was watching people on their daily walks, that perhaps many on those walks are as anxious as I have been about things in our topsy turvy world.
We have the food that satisfies. As the hymn says, “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat.” Our people need some of that. If there were ever a better opportunity to preach the Gospel than now, it would be hard to say. The hunger is there and the food is Jesus’ Word to us, his presence in us, and he wants us to give him to the world.
And best of all, he can still the storms around and in us. Even the winds obey him. Now there is a power no government, no matter how hard it tries, has. What a wonderful Lord we have! Not only does he feed us with the bounties of nature, he feeds our spirits. We go to him for his food, to be strengthened and then share it with a neighbor or two. People are anxious for it--in every sense of that word.
HYMN INFO Omar Westendorf, who lived in Ohio, became one of the leading writers of Catholic hymns after Vatican II and worship moved to English. He came home from WWII with music he had found in Holland and established a printing press and business to distribute it. His company was called World Library Publications. In 1955 it published what would become the first edition of the Peoples Mass Book printed in 1964. It was among the very first to publish the results of Vatican II thinking on liturgy. Westendorf continued writing hymns, many of which are still popular, such as "Sent forth by God's blessing." There is probably no hymn that is more popular in the Eucharistic revival that came with Vatican II. It is long enough and memorable enough to be sung as people process to receive the host. Robert Kreuz' tune is a winner as well. Kreuz, like Westendorf, was an important voice in the liturgical revival and composed many tunes for the hymns being written at the time.
Official tune and text https://youtu.be/FWR1jMRfWdk
Richard Proulx and the Cathedral Choir
Soloist and guitar