Last week I started the homily with a couple of puns. And the response I received was predictable. So I am probably taking my life in my hands by starting this homily with a pun again. This is one of the ten winners in the International Pun Contest: A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to ‘persuade’ them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he’d be back if they didn’t close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent Florist friars. The fun of a pun is the unexpected play on a word or phrase. And the humor of the pun is understanding that unexpected use. You may be wondering what a pun has to do with our Scripture readings. Just as in order to understand the humor of a pun, one needs to see how a word is used differently and unexpectedly. In the same way, our Scriptures today invite us to see our world differently and look for the unexpected.
In our gospel lesson today we hear the familiar story of the loaves and fishes. Jesus takes 5 loaves and 2 fishes and multiplies them so that over 5,000 people get fed. Typically people gloss over this miracle because it is very difficult to visualize. Think of this church full of people. Look around and picture in your mind’s eye every pew filled people shoulder to shoulder. Little children sitting on parents’ laps and if we do that, we have close to 400 people in here. Then picture the little lunch with which Jesus was working. The five loaves were not loaves of bread like we buy in the store. Nor were they the little loaves like one gets at Outback or some other restaurant. No, the loaves referred to in our reading were like our pancakes. The Jewish women would roll out pieces of dough on hot rocks and cook their bread that way. Historians figure they may have been up to 6 or 7 inches in diameter. The two fish were similar to our sardines though they were probably dried and not in a can. So Jesus has these five pancakes, and two small fish from which to work. Even tearing them in half would not go very far, probably it would not even feed one row of people much less everyone in this church! But picture then that Jesus is feeding not only our church full of 400 people, but then double our size of our building and add another 400 people. And then add another 400 and another 400. If we do that we are still less than half of the men who were fed. Remember that there are wives who came along and not only the wives but of course there were children and grandmothers. So all of the sudden it is not only five thousand being fed, many commentators think it may have been as many as twenty thousand people! Feeding 400 people here in our church with five pancakes would be an amazing miracle wouldn’t it? But then to multiply the number twenty, or thirty or forty times is completely mind-boggling!
I want us to see the miraculous but I want us also to particularly consider is the part of the story told only here in John’s account. Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” It was a good question, right? There were thousands of people there. So Jesus asks Philip, but notice Scripture tells us that he asks him to test him. Jesus was not asking Philip because Jesus did not know what he was going to do. Jesus was asking Philip to see what Philip would say. He wanted to see what kind of faith Philip was developing. Philip had seen Jesus turn water into wine—lots of wine. He had seen Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons. Would Philip put all that together and look to Jesus to somehow provide food for all these people?
Well, the short answer is no. Philip doesn’t even really respond directly to the question. Instead he replies (and I am paraphrasing), “Shoot, we would need $18,000 dollars to get even a couple of bites for each person.” Philip thinks to himself—we need bread—bread costs money—lots of bread costs lots of money and he sees the financial impossibility of the situation. He knows the disciples do not have enough cash on hand to send someone for carry out from the local Panera Bread even if there had been a local Panera Bread in the area.
So what was Jesus expecting or hoping from Philip-? If someone was sick Philip would have undoubtedly turned to Jesus for help. If there was a person who was demon possessed Philip would have gotten it right too. But in this situation it apparently didn’t even occur to Philip to look to Jesus as a provider.
Jesus was showing Philip and us that with God there are solutions beyond what we normally expect solutions beyond what we imagine. When we are sick we usually understand we can pray and ask God to intervene and heal us. But for other problems what do we do? Typically like Philip we think almost every problem is solvable if we have enough money. It is too easy for us to always rely on physical resources. It is too easy also for us like Philip to always assume that money is the only solution to our problems. Notice that Jesus did not scold Philip for his answer. He simply showed him that his thinking was too small; it was too limited. That is our tendency—we cannot help it. We are simply humans like Philip. But like Philip we need to change our thinking. But how, how can we do that?
I think our answer is found in our reading from Ephesians 3. This is one of my favorite Scriptures! It’s Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians and we can pray for it for ourselves. We pray that God would strengthen our inner being, that is, our souls our spirits, with power through the Holy Spirit so that Christ would live in our hearts through faith; not just visit from time to time, when we are in church; not just text to say hi every so often; but actually live in our hearts so that we would be aware of his presence. And further that we would have the power to comprehend the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of the love of Christ so that we can be filled with the fullness of God. And look at what happens! Paul writes that that power at work in us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine beyond what we expect! Is Christ’s presence in you all the time; are you filled with the fullness of God? I expect not; me either.
But this is how we get past thinking too small. This is how we get past not seeing the divine options. We need to have Christ living in us! We need to be able to comprehend more and more the love of Christ and be filled with the fullness of God! So when we run into problems, and particularly during those times when our problems are too big to be solved, remember only Hugh can prevent florist friars, that is, we need to remember to think differently than our world thinks and remember our God can accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or think.. Let us pray that Christ would live more and more in our hearts through faith and pray that we would comprehend the love of Christ more and more so that we would be filled with the fullness of God. Amen