Is Fish All There Is?

Read John 6:1-21, Psalm 145:10-18  here.


Megan Giorgetti’s Offertory  “Reverie” by Claude Debussy:

122(244)A rabbi, priest, and a minister are out fishing in a boat on a big lake when the priest realizes that he’s thirsty and wants a drink from the large cooler of drinks that they left onshore because it wouldn’t fit in the boat.

So the priest gets out of the boat and walks across the water to the shore, gets a drink out of the cooler, and then returns to the boat.

A little while later the minister decides he needs a drink too, so he walks across the water, gets a drink out of the cooler and returns across the water to the boat.

After awhile, the rabbi decides to get a drink, too, so he climbs out of the boat.

But instead of walking across the water, he falls into the water and starts to wildly splash around.

The priest and the minister finally drag the rabbi back into the boat and the priest turns to the minister and says, “Maybe we should have told him where the rocks were.”[1]

You may have heard that story before.  There are lots of variations to it.  In one version, the rabbi actually drowns, giving extra emphasis to the information about the rocks, making it critical, life-giving information.

Critical life-giving information is what the gospel-writers possess and want to pass on as well.  John, the writer of the gospel we read from today, tells us at the end of his gospel:

These are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. –John 20:31

By believing in him you will have life.  John doesn’t want us to miss the signs that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God because this is critical, life-giving information.  Life-changing information.

Most of the chapter in John that we read from today talks about how we knead/need bread.  It begins with the story we read about Jesus feeding 5000 people with the five loaves and two fish. It ends with an extended conversation in which Jesus explains the symbolism and theological implications of the bread, and in which Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).  But stuck in the middle there is the part about Jesus walking on the water.

We may wonder why the water-walking is stuck in the middle of all this talk about bread.  It could be that John is just telling us chronologically how things happened, and it probably IS how things happened, but John also wants us to see that there’s more here than just a chronological telling of events.  John holds up a big arrow that says, “Pay attention to this.”  The arrow is verse 4.  A simple little statement.

 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 

It seems like a random thing to say right there, but since John took the time to say it, and all those who have worked on transcribing and translating the scriptures for hundreds of years have gone to all the trouble to make sure that it stayed there, the yeast we can do is pay attention to it. (Pun intended! Plus there is the irony that during Passover there isn’t supposed to be any yeast.)

Why does it matter that the Passover was near?

Because the Passover is the commemoration of what happened to Israel when they were slaves in Egypt.  We read about this in the books of Exodus and Numbers.  God sent Moses to plead with Pharaoh to let the people go, and Pharaoh kept saying no.

So God sent ten plagues. It’s called Passover because the last plague was the angel of death striking all the first born, but passing over all the houses of the people of Israel because they had marked their door frames with the blood of a lamb, as God had instructed Moses to have them do.

Bread without yeast is part of the commemoration of Passover because the escaping Israelites made quick bread to take with them because there wasn’t time to wait for yeast to rise.  Passover also remembers the manna, the bread from heaven, that God provided each day that Israel wandered in the desert.

Water is part of the celebration of Passover because Israel escaped from Pharaoh through the Red Sea where God parted the waters so they could cross on dry land.

Passover is near, and everybody’s got bread and water on their minds, and here is Jesus creating miracles with the very same things – providing an abundance of bread, and walking on the water – showing his power over water.  Jesus is like Moses, the great prophet of the Old Testament, and yet Jesus is even greater, because he doesn’t just provide bread, he IS the bread.

John doesn’t want us to miss the signs that Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus IS God in the flesh.  He doesn’t just protect and sustain life, he IS life.  And not just life, but abundant life.

I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

John 6:35 says that whoever believes in Jesus will never be hungry or thirsty again.  That’s what we have through our faith in Jesus.  Our faith in Jesus allows him to continually feed our souls.

There are other parallels here to the story of Israel in the desert.[2]  Israel was a huge crowd of people out in the middle of nowhere.  This is a huge crowd of people out in the middle of nowhere.  Israel was frequently complaining about what they were lacking.  Phillip plays that role here.  He says, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:7) 

One day’s wage would be a denarius.  Six months wages would be about 150 denarii.[3]  But that doesn’t help us understand this, so let’s put it in today’s terms.  A day’s wage today using minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for an eight-hour day would be $58.

$7.25 x 8 = $58/day x 6 days = $348/week x 25 weeks = $8700

Would that be enough to feed 5000 people?  Let’s say the average cost per person for a meal is $2, which it might be if you’re a really good shopper and you’re cooking at home, or you go to McDonalds and eat off the dollar menu.  Jesus fed the 5000 with some fish and barley loaves, not exactly fine dining.

$2 x 5000 people = $10,000

So Phillip is right.  There’s no way they can afford to buy food for all those people.

What Phillip hasn’t factored in is that this isn’t just any gathering of people, and this isn’t just anybody when Jesus asks Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (v5)

When Jesus asked Phillip that question, do you think maybe Jesus was trying to get a rise out of him?

If you’ve ever doubted whether God has a sense of humor, doubt no more.  Here it is.  Do you think Jesus had a twinkle in his eye when he asked Phillip that?  Or did he do it totally dead pan?  They all knew nobody had that kind of dough.

What Phillip is leaving out of the equation is that this is Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.  This is God about whom Paul says in Ephesians 3:20 that he is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

This is God, the creator of the universe, the one being celebrated in Psalm 145:

The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
    satisfying the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15-16)

Not only can he feed 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish, but there are even twelve baskets of leftovers.

This is Jehovah Jireh, God who provides (Gen. 22:14)  We know this because we are here today, living, breathing, having survived all that has happened up to this moment.  We may be inclined to be like Israel or like Phillip and focus on what we DONT have, but if we do, then we are missing the opportunity to praise God for all that we DO have.

downloadIt’s kind of like the Food Network show Chopped.  On this show, four chefs are given the challenge of making a meal using the ingredients in the mystery basket.  They would love to find their favorite ingredients in the basket, but instead there are unusual ingredients like cactus or fiddlehead ferns, or things we never heard of like reindeer pate or pickled pigs lips.  Before they can start cooking, sometimes beginningthey have to fillet a fish, or break down a goat or a pig, or skin a snake.  The clock is ticking so there’s no time to waste lamenting what they’ve got.  They’ve got to jump right in figuring out how to make those ingredients into something that tastes good and highlights those basket ingredients.  When I see what they get in some of these baskets, I see a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t even want to try to cook, let alone eat.  But they see an opportunity to show off their culinary abilities and win $10,000.  There’s no time to complain about what they chopped chefsdon’t have.  They’ve got to celebrate what they have.

That’s our call, too.  We’ve got to celebrate what we have.

 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. – John 1:16

We have received an abundance of blessings, but right now, just think of ONE.  We have all received one after another, but for the moment, I’m just asking you to think of one blessing. The first thing that comes to your mind. It’s ok if you think it’s the same one you thought of another time.

Remember it.  Write it down.  Put it in your phone. Hold that one blessing in your mind.

What is that one blessing you thought of?  Why did you think of that first?

What is it about it that makes it a blessing?

How might you share that one thing?

It doesn’t matter what it is.  Big or small.

I don’t know what your one thing is, it might be something you never thought about sharing, but this is our challenge today, to share that one thing.  Here’s how.

Psalm 145 says:

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your faithful shall bless you.
 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
    and tell of your power,
 to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:10-12)

Whatever your one thing is, give thanks to God for that one thing, and share it by celebrating it.  Psalm 145 reminds us that we need to tell about God’s blessings.  Whatever your one thing is, what can you tell about it?  How can you celebrate it?

God blesses our faith, God blesses us for trusting him, putting our faith into practice by doing what he calls us to do.  God has given us everything.  We have the opportunity every day to celebrate God’s gifts to us in each moment.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. –2 Peter 1:3

God can use whatever we have to be a blessing to us and to one another, no matter how small or insignificant we might think it is.

Those 5 loaves and 2 fish might have seemed so small that they didn’t even think it was worth mentioning them, but out of those few items, they fed 5000 people and had twelve baskets of leftovers.  Twelve baskets. Imagine each one of these baskets stuffed full to overflowing with fish. That’s a lot of fish.  And we could look at that and say, “Is fish all there is?” Or we can celebrate God’s amazing blessing.

This is how God works.  God blesses our faith, blesses our trust, the trust that we put into action when instead of complaining about what we don’t have, or dismissing what we do have as too little, we thank God for what we have, we celebrate it, and we share it.


[2] Gary Burge, NIV Application Commentary: John (Zondervan), pages 192-3 describes a detailed comparison between Numbers 11 and John 6.

[3] Based on the calculation found here:

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