John’s Gospel, like the others, tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Surely everyone knows it? This is the bit where an unnamed boy, the disciple Andrew, and Jesus, conspire to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children. The boy offers to share his lunch (why would he do that?). Andrew thinks that this might be a useful contribution to the problem of feeding all those people (how ridiculous). Jesus takes the food, holds it up and gives thanks for it (a bold piece of public theatre from which there was no going back). He gave people permission to eat, sharing their own food that they had not wanted to bring out and, in fact, to have a street party. Twelve baskets full of left overs.
A few weeks ago, John Morris died of pancreatic cancer. He was a great man. You may never have heard of him. In the late 1990s he gave up his job, invested his own money in hiring Leeds Town Hall, and advertised for people to sing. He wanted to bring the joy of singing to as many people as possible. If you ask people if they are singers they usually deny it quite vehemently. But singing is a great activity that raises levels of all the joy chemicals in our brains and creates magic. John Morris gave people permission to sing. All the people’s choirs of the last five years stem from John’s brave public piece of theatre. So much happiness created by one man.
Giving people permission to behave in life-enhancing ways is Jesus-like behaviour. We should do more of it.
People are happy to take on the morals and habits of a group to which they belong or to which they aspire. That is why you catch obesity from your friends. Football crowds are happy to use the language used by their heroes on the pitch, while back home they can be quite nice to know. Bankers together can believe that all of them deserve more money.
When we are in church, we get permission to behave in noble ways. Through the week, we must enable our neighbours and acquaintances to do the same.
To be a Christian surely involves trying to emulate the lead that Jesus gave. This is simple, much simpler than the complex theology built up after His death by the evolving church. Loving other people, enhancing their lives, affirming their importance, listening to them, wanting the best for them.
Recent research into oxytocin, the love hormone, reveals that we become happier and more cooperative by trusting others, by hugging others, by working with others. Jesus had the right idea.