It is as plain as the nose on your face.
Sometimes the solutions to the problems and issues we all face are as plain as the nose on our faces. Or so it should seem.
We have heard the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand . . . or even quite a few more thousand as the writer does not make any reference to the fact that there were probably women and children with the five thousand men; but, any case, we have all heard the story about how Jesus fed the five thousand. Being faced with a huge . . . and hungry . . . crowd, Jesus raises the question to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
Philip was no dummy and he tells Jesus that it would take months of wages to have enough money to buy food for all these hungry people . . . money they did not have. It was an impossible task.
Andrew, another of Jesus’ disciples, pointed out a boy who happened to have five loaves of bread and two fish . . . but, like Philip he realizes that it is an impossible task and that five loaves of bread and two fish wouldn’t even come close to feeding the crowd, much less feed the disciples and Jesus. It is an impossible task!
Even though the writer of Mark’s gospel doesn’t say it, I sometimes imagine that Jesus must have rolled his eyes at the immaturity and ignorance of his disciples. As far as Jesus is concerned, the solution . . . the answer . . . to the question and task at hand is as plain as the nose on their faces.
Jesus tells the disciples to have everyone sit down. Then he took the five loaves of bread, blessed them, and passed them out to the crowd. In a like manner he also did the fish. The people ate to their hearts’ content . . . as much as they wanted . . . and, there was plenty to eat. In the end, when they gathered up the leftovers, there were twelve full baskets of food. Those gathered, including the disciples; saw this whole incident as a sign of the miraculous. They declared: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
Most often, when we think of miracles, we think of an act that is beyond our understanding or comprehension . . . something spectacular . . . something brought on by the supernatural. Theologically a miracle is described as the revelation of the presence of the Holy . . . a revelation of the presence of God. In the case of the feeding of the five thousand, I would say that what happened fits into the understanding of both realms’ of describing a miracle. What happened seems difficult to explain . . . feeding over five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish . . . and, as the people recognize, the Holy is exposed . . . they know that they are in the presence of the Holy. What takes place in our reading this morning is a miracle—plain and simple.
Whatever the case, biblical scholars and theologians have explained it over and over for generations. It is a supernatural miracle . . . in the blessing of the bread and fish to God by Jesus the cosmic tumblers clicked into place and the food magically multiplied to point that there were even twelve baskets of leftovers. It has been explained as a movement of the Spirit through the people . . . seeing the compassionate act of sharing by the boy, the people are moved to share from the resources that they have; thus, enough food is gathered from the crowd to easily feed everyone. Either way, argue the scholars and theologians, the Holy is revealed. The Holy is revealed and the people see it.
How you see this I will let you decide for yourselves.
In the meantime, I want you to go back to that statement . . . “As plain as the nose on your face.” One of the purposes of these stories is to get the listener to open up his or her eyes, hearts and minds to see the hidden truth that is in plain sight. The story is attempting to train us to see that which is present in our own sight . . . as plain as the nose on our faces. The Holy surrounds us like the air that we breathe . . . and, because the Holy is around us, always present, we have the ability to welcome it into our lives.
Jesus asked: “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked the question knowing good and well that the answer and solution was right before them all. The answer and solution was there among those who had gathered. It was in the wholeness and holiness of those present.
Bread . . . a symbol and metaphor. Bread represents the basic need for nourishment to feed our bodies. Bread, in the hearts of the faithful, represents the basic need for nourishing our souls. Bread is a symbol of our basic needs. It is both practical and sacramental. Thus it should come as no surprise that bread is central to this story. Jesus acknowledges this understanding in stating that the people must be fed. Jesus then models the means of delivering of the bread to the people to meet their needs. It is in through and within the presence of the Holy that surrounds them . . . always surrounds them . . . that the people are fed. With full tummies, they acknowledge the presence of the Holy.
So it can be for us as the followers of Jesus.
One of the tools that community planners use when they come into a community to assist the community in dealing with problems and issues is called “mapping”. Mapping is simply taking the time to carefully take a look at a community, tally up its resources, and then to attach those resources to the issues and problems being dealt with. Mapping is built on the belief that each and every community has the resources—within their presence—to handle the problems and issues that they are facing. In other words, the solutions to many of their issues and problems are right there in front of them . . . as plain as the noses on their faces.
And, I believe that.
Too often communities and groups gather together to lament and complain about the issues and problems that they face. They moan and groan and perpetuate the problems . . . allow them to fester . . . and, they think that the only solution to these problems is to bring in the experts—those people who live more than 45 miles away—to solve the problems for them. Often it is expensive and the problems do not get solved. Especially when they probably have all the keys to the solutions that they really need already within the community. The problem is that they have not opened up their eyes to see.
How is this done? Simply by having everyone participate . . . by having everyone putting his or her talents and gifts on the table . . . by sharing and caring. Is it possible that the “miracle” occurs in the story because the people are moved by the boy’s compassion to place on the table the food that they had? Who knows for sure . . . but what we do know is that the people were fed and the Holy was exposed.
Too often in our lives we waste a lot of time looking around for the big supernatural occurrences or miracles to come sweeping out of the heavens to save us from whatever is ailing us or creating havoc in our lives when the answers to all our prayers are right there in plain sight like the noses on our faces. Jesus stated that whenever two or three are gathered in his name . . . he is there. Jesus believed in the Holy . . . trusted the Holy . . . and, modeled that belief by taking a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish, blessing them, and allowing the Holy to take over. Out of what seemed to be fragments and scattered groups of people came the bread necessary to feed them all.
It can be the same for us all. If we open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands . . . if we learn to share from that which we have and have been blessed with . . . if we acknowledge the presence of the Holy . . . we, too, can know the power of the God who loves us . . . who cares for us. We, too, can experience miracles. Jesus tells us that this is as plain as the noses on our faces. Believe. Amen.