Do you know what snow is? I mean lots of snow, maybe half a metre deep or more? And have you ever made a snowman? Or snow woman? If you have, you would know about the snowball effect. You start by bringing together a few handfuls of snow. Then you roll it along the ground. As it rolls, more snow sticks to it, so the ball gets bigger and bigger. Its final size can be as big as you are able to push. That is the snowball effect.
In 2007-8 the banks in America and Britain found what they thought was a bigger and better way to make more money. They made loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay them back. They did this because of good old-fashioned greed. The banks got into trouble, and governments had to bail them out to keep them from failing. As more and more banks threatened to fail, the cost to government went up and up. And the rot spread, first to one country in Europe, then to another. Because evil has a way of snowballing.
On the other hand, go back to the late 1980’s and to the Soviet Union as it was called. A handful of courageous leaders began to create small freedoms in the country. The system was so weak that it collapsed. This produced a peaceful revolution that spread to almost every other communist country, one after the other. Eventually it led to the collapse of the whole empire and the rise of democracy across Eastern Europe. Because goodness also has a way of snowballing.
In the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus, something good snowballed. But maybe a better name for it is the picnic effect. Did Jesus magically multiply the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, or were the crowd persuaded to share the packed lunches that they had brought? We don’t really know. Whatever happened, it made a huge impact on the disciples and the crowd. It is the only miracle told in each one of the four gospels. That is because Jesus turns meals into kingdom events, occasions that show the kingdom of God.
At the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee, Jesus turned gallons of water into wine, a sign that revealed his glory.
When Jesus was invited to a meal in the home of Simon the Pharisee, he praised the true hospitality of the woman who washed his feet with her tears.
Jesus invited himself to the home of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was so overcome by Jesus’ presence that he promised to return the tax money he had stolen from clients. Jesus declared that salvation had come to that house.
At a meal in the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus taught about what was really important in life, namely, spending time with him.
At the Last Supper with his disciples Jesus offered God’s new covenant to the world, and this meal we share this morning to remember him.
At the supper at Emmaus, and the barbeque of fish on the beach, Jesus shared his risen life with his disciples.
If that wasn’t enough, Jesus even compared entering the kingdom of God to receiving an invitation to a great banquet. In the world of Jesus, meals become kingdom events. Our monthly parish lunch is a kingdom event. In eating together we are making complete the oneness we have in Christ.
And now in our gospel for today Jesus feeds the 5000. He sees the people are hungry. He’s not bothered whether they were the right sort of people, or whether they believed the right things. He just notices they are hungry, and he wants to feed them.
As with many things in John’s gospel, there is a double meaning at work. The crowd was physically hungry. Jesus could also see that they were spiritually hungry. When he tells his disciples to feed the huge crowd, he is helping them to see their own limitations. There was no way they could supply either the physical or spiritual needs of so many people by themselves. As disciples today we need to know that too: we are unable to meet the many spiritual and physical needs of this community here in Dallas without relying completely on God.
Regardless of how we understand the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, it all began with the boy who offered to share his lunch. His little act of unselfishness started the snowball rolling. He could have thought, ‘There are so many people, and my little lunch would go such a little way. So I might as well eat it myself.’ He didn’t think that; instead he offered his lunch to Jesus’ disciples, who handed it on to Jesus.
When he received the gift of the boy’s lunch, Jesus gave thanks for it. He didn’t enter into a desperate prayer such as, ‘Oh God, look at all these people – please help me to do something spectacular.’ He didn’t pray like that at all. He knew his Father would hear him. There was no need for theatrics. He simply gave thanks for the gift. God did the rest.
A small gift, or more likely a gift that we think is small, God loves to multiply.
But it needs to be offered in the best spirit (which means giving it to God with no strings attached).
It all has to do with our loaves and fishes. These are our time, our abilities, our interests. Your gifts and mine have been gifted to us by God, and each one of us has something to offer. And like the boy in the story, we have roughly two ways in which to work with our gifts: we can think that our gift is of no consequence, and that it would make no difference to anyone else. Or we can offer it to God, who can multiply it in some way for the good of all.
The snowball principle, or the picnic principle, is this: in ways we cannot foresee, God blesses the giver and more.
This is the way God’s covenant works with humanity. A covenant is an agreement between two parties, each with an obligation to fulfil. On our part we bring what we are and have to God. And God, for his part in this new covenant, and in his great faithfulness, works the blessing. Both parts are necessary if the snowball principle is to work.
It is likely to give us a buzz when we offer our gifts, our loaves and fishes. Imagine how that boy must have felt when he saw what Jesus was able to do with his lunch.