Roll Down like Waters

Sermon copyright (c) 2024 Dan Harper. As delivered to First Parish in Cohasset. As usual, the sermon as delivered contained substantial improvisation.


The first reading was a poem by Clint Smith, “For Your First Birthday.”

The second reading was from the Hebrew Bible, the book of Amos, chapter 5, verses 21 through 24.

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Sermon: “Roll Down Like Waters”

The birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a time for everyone in the United States to refer back to his writings and speeches and reinterpret them once again. We do this every year, and by this point in the history of the United States, it can seem like there’s nothing left to say. Maybe we should just skip it this year. The thing is, preachers love to quote Dr. King, because he was such a good writer — such a good stylist — and there’s something incredibly satisfying about saying aloud his words. Being a preacher myself, there’s no way I’m going to pass up this opportunity to read aloud something written by Dr. King. So, like it or not, you’re going to get yet another sermon about Dr. King and his legacy — even if I have nothing original to say.

Yet people continue to find novel and interesting ways to interpret King’s thinking. For example, King famously said that he wanted his children to live in a land where “they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Recently, this quote has been used by some conservative politicians and pundits to help bolster the claim that we should not teach critical race theory or the history of racism in our schools. This is certainly a creative use of King’s words, but it’s probably not what he intended.

On the other side of the political spectrum, liberal politicians take pleasure in invoking King’s words, but they tend to do so selectively. For example, they pass lightly over King’s pointed critique of capitalism, as when he said: “We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, both here and abroad.” [The Three Evils of Society, 1967] In today’s society, it would be political suicide to criticize capitalism quite so openly. And so political liberals creatively interpret King by leaving out some important parts of his message.

And I think something we all tend to forget these days is that King was a progressive Christian minister. Today, Christianity’s reputation has suffered as a result of the clergy abuse scandal, the hypocrisy of Christians who demonize LGBTQ people, the refusal of the largest Christian denominations to allow women clergy, and for many other reasons. We live in a time when progressive Christians feel the need to apologize for being Christian. As a result, I think many of us, including Unitarian Universalists, either try to apologize for King’s progressive Christianity, or try to ignore King’s supposedly outdated religious convictions.

It’s a mistake to dismiss his religious convictions so readily. King was a serious intellectual, earning his doctorate degree from Boston University in systematic theology with a dissertation titled “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.” (Weiman, by the way, was a very progressive Christian theologian who late in life joined a Unitarian church.) With his progressive Christianity in mind, let’s look at one Bible passage that King repeatedly invoked. This was the passage we heard in the second reading today, from the Hebrew Bible, the book of Amos, chapter 5, verses 21 through 24.

The words we ehard are not the words of the human prophet. Amos was giving the actual words of his god, whom Amos knew as Yahweh. And Yahweh is not happy with humankind. God tells humankind that they have strayed from God’s core ethical and moral teachings. In particular, God calls out the privileged people who rule over the country where Amos lived. God tells the privileged people that they “trample on the poor” and “afflict the righteous,” that they take bribes and “push aside the needy.”

Amos was probably a real person. At the time he lived, the historic land of Israel was split into two countries, the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. In those days, there was no distinction between politics and religion, for that distinction only dates back to the European Enlightenment. So the power of King Jeroboam II and the power of the official cult of Yahweh were the same thing. Thus, by repeating the words of his god, the prophet Amos was taking on the entire establishment. Amos’s prophecy makes clear that the king’s rule was against the will of God. The cultic leaders wrongly interpreted the will of God — so says Amos.

This helps us understand why Amos reports God as saying, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” God is telling the humans in charge of the northern kingdom that they were doing things that were completely against the will of God; no amount of festivals or church services or solemn assemblies on the part of the humans could make God ignore what they were doing wrong. As to what they were doing wrong, the Biblical scholar Norman Gottwald sums it up like this:

Amos was attacking “the patriotic and pious … reaction that had gained currency among the upper classes during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II. The greedy upper classes, with governmental and judicial connivance, were systematically expropriating the land of commoners so that they could heap up wealth and display it gaudily in a lavish conspicuous consumption economy.” [The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction, Gottwald, 1985]

Knowing this, we can better understand how King might find the book of Amos attractive. From the perspective of Black Americans in the mid-twentieth century, the American establishment had kept Blacks in low-paying jobs that supported the increasingly comfortable lives of the elite, all of whom were then White. And just like the greedy upper classes used their religion to maintain their position during the reign of King Jeroboam II, the elite White rulers of mid-twentieth century America used their interpretation of the Christian religion to maintain the status quo that benefited them.

If you remember King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he was responding to well-to-do ministers who were part of the White establishment of Birmingham, Alabama. These White ministers criticized the Civil Rights Movement in a public statement in which they called King and his allies “extremists.” King responded directly to this criticism by telling these Christian ministers: “Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.’” Later on in that same letter, King told these White ministers:

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? Perhaps the south, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

This helps us understand why King quoted Amos so often. No doubt in the days of King Jeroboam II, the greedy upper classes called the prophet Amos an extremist. In much the same way, King was called an extremist in his day. Both of them said things that were uncomfortable to hear. And that discomfort was intended to provoke people to take action. I would go so far as to say that if we don’t feel uncomfortable when we hear King’s words, we’re not paying attention.

But sometimes King translated the passage from Amos differently than the version we so love to quote. The Hebrew word “mishpat,” usually translated as “justice,” can also be translated as “judgement.” So in his essay “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” King wrote: “Yes America, there is still the need for an Amos to cry out to the nation: ‘Let judgement roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.’”

This translation, while equally valid, sounds more challenging. “Let judgement roll down” — in fact, this almost sounds threatening, and it may better translate the sense of the original. The prophet Amos was telling the people of his day that their God would judge their actions. Amos saw himself as spreading the words of Yahweh, and Yahweh was telling the people in power that they must stop supporting injustice. The purpose of the book of Amos is for the rich and powerful to realize that, despite the stories they liked to tell themselves, all was not well in their land.

Martin Luther King spread a similar message to America in the 1950s and 1960s. While the American economy was booming in those years, Black Americans were mostly excluded from prosperity. In response, King preached the message that his God wanted all persons to be treated with love and dignity; and while King was most focused on how America treated Black Americans, his message included persons of all races who were treated unfairly. King preached the uncomfortable message that if some people were excluded from prosperity, then his God would let judgement roll down like waters.

In our own time, Black Americans still face job discrimination, and people of all races face increasing economic inequality. This can seem overwhelming. Yes, we have made progress since King’s day, but so much remains to be done before we have true equality in America. But I will leave you with the thought that King’s message was ultimately a hopeful message. Speaking at the National Cathedral in March, 1968, King said, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” When King said this, he was paraphrasing the great abolitionist and Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker. Back in 1853, Parker preached a sermon in Boston where he said: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

No wonder Martin Luther King paraphrased this passage from Theodore Parker so frequently. I understand this as a message of hope. When Theodore Parker preached this sermon, slavery was the law of the land, and it seemed impossible that America would ever put an end to it. A century later, Martin Luther King paraphrased Parker’s words, and Jim Crow was the law of the land, and it seemed impossible that America would ever put an end to it. Yet we did put an end to slavery, and we did put an end to Jim Crow, and we can and will put an end to the other injustices that still confront us.

The arc of the moral universe may be long, and from where we stand today we do not see where it finally comes to rest. Yet we know deep within ourselves that we are moving towards justice — slowly, perhaps, but inexorably. We have not yet overcome injustice. But some day, sooner rather than later, we shall overcome injustice and build a land where we let justice roll down like waters, and peace like an everflowing stream.

Labor of Love

The sermon below was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, California, at the 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. services. The sermon text below is a reading text; the actual sermon contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon copyright (c) 2016 Daniel Harper.

Opening song:
The opening song, sung by Lewis Santer, was “Commonwealth of Toil” by Ralph Chaplin. See note (4) for the lyrics.

The readings, chosen and read by Rev. Mary Ganz, were the following poems:
“What I Learned from My Mother” by Julia Kasdorf
“What Work Is” by Philip Levine
“Heart Labour” by Maggie Anderson


I thought I’d speak with you this morning about whether you can find a job you love. One legacy of the Protestant Christian tradition which has deeply influenced United States culture is an assumption that our jobs should be both personally satisfying and good for the world. That old Protestant Christian tradition taught that each one of us had a vocation, a calling: it wasn’t just priests who were called by God, every single person in the Christian community was called by God to do their bit to make this world a kind of heaven on earth.

This morning, on the day before Labor Day, I thought I’d question this old Protestant Christian assumption. So let me offer up an old story, supposedly told by Jesus of Nazareth, and first written down about the year 70 C.E. by a member of the Jewish reform movement that later became known as Christianity.

As the story begins, a crowd has gathered around to watch that radical rabble-rousing rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, debating with the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. At that time, the Roman Empire ruled Jerusalem and the rest of Judea, a land which not so long before had been an independent Jewish country. When the Romans took over Jerusalem, the chief priests, scribes, and elders had to learn to get along with the Roman overlords; and at the time of this story, they derived much of their power and authority from their association with the Romans.

These chief priests, scribes, and elders are debating Jesus because they desperately want to get Jesus to say something, anything, that can be taken as critical of the Roman regime. If they can do that, then they can get the Romans political leaders to arrest Jesus and execute him. Avoiding all their verbal traps, Jesus proceeds to tell them a story, which goes like this:

A man goes out and plants a vineyard. He puts a fence around it, digs a pit for the winepress, and he builds a watchtower. Then the landowner rents the land to some tenants, and he goes off live in another country. [At this point, the crowd listening to Jesus tell the story realizes the man must be quite wealthy, since he can afford live abroad.]

Harvest season comes around, and the landowner sends a slave to go and collect the rent from the tenants. The tenants grab the slave, beat him, and send him back to the landowner empty-handed. So the landowner sends another slave; same thing happens, except the tenants also insult the slave. The landowner sends another slave, and this one the tenants kill. The landowner keeps sending slaves to collect the rent, and the tenants beat some of them up, and they kill some of them. [The crowd is getting a better sense of how wealthy the man his: he has so many slaves, he can afford to let some of them get killed.]

The landowner finally decides to send his son, thinking: Surely the tenants will respect my son. But when the tenants see the landowner’s son, they say to each other: This is our chance, if we kill the son, the landowner will give up, and the land will be ours. So they kill the son, and throw his body out of the vineyard. [The crowd is now confused: are the tenants the heroes of this story, or have they just gone too far?]

Jesus ends the story by saying: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.” [Mark 12:9] The crowd is thinking: Wait a minute, what is Jesus saying here? We thought this was an allegory of the evil Roman empire taking over Jerusalem. We thought Jesus was telling us to resist the Roman overlords. Is Jesus now telling us that “Resistance Is Futile”?

And then Jesus quotes the Hebrew scriptures, Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.” Many of the people in the crowd are good observant Jews who can fill in the rest of the Psalm from memory, including lines like “All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!” and “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?” So Jesus is NOT saying that resistance is futile after all!

And indeed, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, all willing tools of Roman empire, know that Jesus is talking about them. Jesus is saying they are like the evil landowner who extorted too much money from the tenants, provoking the tenants to open rebellion. When Jesus quotes Psalm 118, it sounds to them like he’s calling for open rebellion. They dearly want to arrest Jesus, but they fear the crowd, so they do nothing.

As for the crowd, Jesus has gotten them thinking.

On the one hand, the image of the tenants killing the landowner’s son, then throwing the body outside the vineyard — that’s a pretty disgusting image. That’s the trouble with armed rebellion: you have to kill people, and you are not going to respect the dead bodies of those you kill.

On the other hand, since they are Jewish, the crowd knows about Sabbath years, and about Jubilee years. (1) According to the book of Leviticus, every seventh year is a sabbath year, when you are supposed to let the land lie fallow. Everyone in the crowd would have known that the book of Leviticus was written by Moses, and they would have known that Moses wrote down the actual words of the god of the Israelites. The god of the Israelites told Moses: “When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord.” This was, by the way, an ancient Jewish practice for promoting ecological sustainability.

So every seventh year is a sabbath year. Then every seven-times-seven years is a jubilee year. In the jubilee year, the god of the Israelites charged human beings to do the following:

— let the land lie fallow, to encourage ecological sustainability;
— proclaim liberty throughout the land for all inhabitants and free those held in bondage;
— any land that was sold must be returned to the original human owners (this was because the God of the Israelites really owned the land, not humans).

When Jesus quotes Psalm 118, he gets the crowd thinking about jubilee years. The crowd knows the Romans will never abide by the rules of the jubilee year; the Romans had their own gods, ignoring the god of the Israelites. And the crowd knows that the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of Jerusalem — those among the Jewish people who should above all others uphold the laws of their God — the crowd knows that these Jewish leaders have been co-opted by the Romans; they are no longer serve truth and righteousness, they serve Rome. The Roman empire rules Jerusalem with their military might, ignoring the Jewish laws of ecological sustainability and human freedom.

So ends this old Christian story. You will notice that there is no real resolution to the story. And here’s how I understand this story:

The chief religious idea of Jesus of Nazareth is what he called “the kingdom of heaven.” But for Jesus, heaven meant something different than it does in today’s United States, where our religious culture is dominated by Protestant Christian ideas. For Jesus, heaven did not mean — to quote Joe Hill — “pie in the sky, bye and bye”; for Jesus, heaven is something that exists here and now. Heaven is, in fact, what we today call the “Web of Life,” that is, the interconnected relationships that bind together all human beings, all living things, and many non-living things. When we damage those interconnected relationships, when we damage the Web of Life, we are damaging what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven. (2)

In the story, the landowner set up his vineyard and rented it out to some tenants and then left town so he could live in some exotic foreign place. By doing this, landowner damaged many relationships of the Web of Life. As an absentee landlord, he damaged his direct relationship with the tenants. Because he did not live on the land, he damaged his relationship with the land, and he demanded that his tenants produce more from the land than the land could sustainably yield. He was a slave-owner, which damaged many human relationships; worse yet, he sent his slaves to do his dirty work so that he didn’t have to face up to his tenants.

This story, then, is a case study in damaged relationships: damaged relationships between people, and a damaged relationship between human beings and the land. This is a case study in how human beings damage the Web of Life.

Now let me say the obvious: this case study comes from two thousand years ago, from a place with a very different economic system than we have now. We probably can’t draw exact parallels with Silicon Valley today, much as we might be tempted to do so.

But what we can say with certainty is that most of our jobs damage our interconnected relationships with other human beings, and with other living beings. Take my job as an example: being a Unitarian Universalist minister is all about strengthening relationships between people, and between humans and the rest of the ecosystem. That’s on the plus side. On the negative side, statistics show that ministry as a profession is correlated with a higher rate of substance abuse, and a higher suicide rate, and strong anecdotal evidence suggests that many ministers work long hours to the neglect their immediate families. Ministry as a profession may strengthen some of the interconnected relationships that make up the Web of Life, but it does damage to others. And this is a good job.

You can do this kind of thinking about your own work. To get you started, I’ll give you three examples of how your work might damage the Web of Life. If there’s institutional sexism present in your workplace — and that is true of far too many workplaces in Silicon Valley — your job is doing damage to the Web of Life. If your work is not carbon-neutral — and that is true of most jobs in the United States today — that damages the Web of Life. If your workplace shows evidence of institutional racism — true of most workplaces in the United States — again, damage to the Web of Life.

Now I do believe there are some jobs, a very few jobs, which are true vocations. These rare jobs provide a balance between several things: they benefit the world, provide an adequate salary to the person holding the job, allow you adequate time for family, the democratic process, and social service; all this, without burning you out. Mind you, I don’t happen to know anyone who has one of these rare jobs, although I like to believe they exist.

But most of us have to compromise in one of these things. For example, many Silicon Valley white collar jobs provide an adequate salary and may even do good in the world by providing needed products or services; but when those jobs require you to work such long hours that you have little time to spend on democratic process, social service work, or even your family, then those jobs are damaging the relationships that constitute the Web of Life.

When you consider the vast array of jobs that you could have, a Silicon Valley white-collar job is about as good as it gets. So you see, if even though a Silicon Valley white collar job is as good as it gets, no one should count on such a job to make life fulfilling.

And this brings us around once more to that old story told by rabbi Jesus. He lived in a world where there were wealthy landowners who made their fortunes by exploiting the land, and by exploiting their tenants. When he told his story of the wealthy landowner and the rebellious tenants, Jesus did not give us a neat, tidy ending. He did not solve the problem for us. But one thing is clear: those tenants are never going to find their work to be fulfilling as long as the human relationships around them are so strained. They are never going to find their work fulfilling as long as the land is owned by wealthy business owners who are accurately described by Psalm 17, in this translation by the eighteenth century poet Christopher Smart:

They’re swollen with fatness, as their days
To sumptuous banquets they devote;
Their mouths are filled with pompous phrase,
As on their wealth they gloat. (3)

And it is clear that those tenants are never going to find their work to be fulfilling as long as the relationship between humans and the earth is so out of balance.

By now, maybe you have come to the same conclusion I have: those tenants are us. Many of us are like the tenants in the story: we toil in a kind of voluntary servitude, while someone else coins our life blood into gold. We are forced to live our lives out of balance with the Web of Life.

Instead of placing all our hopes and dreams into a job, then, let us place our hopes and dreams and love into a vision of what our lives could be. Our real work is, as songwriter Ralph Chaplin puts it, to build a world in which “we claim our Mother Earth, and the nightmare of the present fades away, [and] we live with love and laughter.” And how might we do that? How, to use the old Jewish phraseology of Jesus, can we live to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth? How can we stay in balance with the Web of Life? Here are three possible answers for you to consider:

First, remember the Jewish concept of the sabbath and the jubilee year, which promote ecological sustainability by letting the land rest. Humans need rest, too. Therefore, we can promote our own sustainability by letting ourselves take a sabbath and lie fallow, every now and then.

Second, remember that the Web of Life already exists all around us — the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, in that Web of Life. We are already a part of an interconnected web of relationships that binds together all human beings, and binds humans together with non-human beings. So give thanks and praise for that web of relationships of which we are already part.

Third, strengthen our relationships with other humans, and with non-human beings. Devote our best energy to family and friends and community. Spend time outdoors with non-human beings. Build wider relationships by participating in democracy, and volunteering our time.

If we can manage to do these things — to find time for rest, to give thanks for the Web of Life of which we are part, and to strengthen our relationships with all beings — if we can do these things just a little bit, we may find the beginnings of true fulfillment.

And so you see, this is our real labor, and it is labor of the heart. For our true calling, or true vocation, is not to have a fulfilling job; our true calling is to love and be loved in return.

(1) My interpretive methodology here is based in part on John Shelby Spong’s recent book Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy (New York: Harper One, 2016).
(2) This interpretation from theologian Bernard Loomer. See, e.g., “Unfoldings: Conversations from the Sunday Morning Seminars of Bernie Loomer” (Berkeley, Calif.: First Unitarian Church, 1985), pp. 1-2.
(3) Reprinted in The Poet’s Book of Psalms, ed. Laurance Wieder (Oxfor: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 25.
(4) Lyrics for “Commonwealth of Toil” by Ralph Chaplin: Continue reading “Labor of Love”

Fish for Five Thousand

The following was given at the Thursday evening worship service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, at the 7:00 p.m. service. Copyright (c) Dan Harper 2011.


Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions, yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Frederick Douglass, from “An address on West India Emancipation,” August 4, 1857.


I’d like to tell you a story about that radical rabble rouser and rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth.

Once upon a time, Jesus and his disciples (that is, his closest followers) were trying to take a day off. Jesus had become very popular, and people just wouldn’t leave him alone. Jesus and the disciples wanted a little time away from the crowds that followed them everywhere, so they rented a boat and went to a lonely place, far from any village.

But people figured out where they were going, and by the time Jesus and his friends landed the boat, there were five thousand people waiting there for them. So Jesus started to teach them, and he talked to them for hours.

It started getting late, and the disciples of Jesus pulled him aside and said, “We need to send these people to one of the nearby villages to get some food.”

“No,” said Jesus. “The villages around here are too small to feed five thousand people. You will have to get them something to eat.”

“What do you mean?” his disciples said. “We don’t have enough money to go buy enough bread for all these people, and even if we did, how would we bring it all back here?”

“No, no,” said Jesus. “I don’t want you to go buy bread. Look, how many loaves of bread we got right here?

The disciples looked at the food they had brought with them. “We’ve got five loaves of bread, and a couple of fried fish. That’s all.”

“That will be enough,” said Jesus.

His disciples looked at him as if he were crazy. There was no way that would be enough food for five thousand people!

But Jesus had spent the whole day teaching people about the Kingdom of God — today we’d call it the Web of Life — teaching them that everyone is dependent on someone else. And while he was sitting up in front of the crowd teaching, he looked out and saw that many of the five thousand people had brought their own food with them. He watched them as they surreptitiously nibbled away at their own food, ignoring the fact that many of the people around them had no food at all.

Jesus told everyone to sit down on the grass. All five thousand people sat down. Jesus brought out the five loaves of bread. Being a good Jew, he blessed the bread using the traditional Jewish blessing: “Blessed are you, O Holy One, Creator of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Then, so everyone could see, Jesus broke the bread, and cut up the fish, and divided it up, so the disciples could hand it around.

Everyone saw that even though Jesus and his disciples had barely enough food for themselves, they were going to share it with everyone. From where he sat, Jesus could see the truth dawning in people’s eyes. All day long, Jesus had been teaching them that the Kingdom of Heaven existed here and now, if only people would recognize it. Now Jesus was giving them a chance to show they understood, and to act as if the Kingdom of Heaven truly existed.

The disciples began to pass around the bread and the fried fish, shaking their heads because they knew there wasn’t going to be enough food for everyone. Yet, miracle of miracles, there was plenty of food to go around. People who had food put some of their food into the baskets so it could be shared. People who hadn’t brought food with them took some food from the baskets. By the time the followers of Jesus had passed the baskets to all five thousand people, everyone had gotten enough to eat, and there was so much food left over that it filled twelve baskets.

And that’s the story of how Jesus fed five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fried fish. Many people believe that Jesus performed a magical miracle when he blessed the bread and fish, and that somehow God turned a dozen loaves of bread and two fish into thousands of loaves of bread and thousands of fried fish. It’s easier to believe that God performed the miracle, than to believe that humans could perform the same miracle. Because if humans performed the miracle, that means we could do the same thing today: to share with those who need it, and to live as if the Kingdom of Heaven existed here and now.

Sources: Christian scriptures, Mark 6.32-44. Theological interpretation from Bernard Loomer, Unfoldings (Berkeley, Calif.: 1985), pp. 3 ff.; and Latin American liberation theology.