9th Sunday after Pentecost
August 6, 2017
Matthew 14: 13-21 You cn click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser
“You give them something to eat.” Sometimes I wonder if Jesus gets grumpy. After all, it’s been a really, really long day. Hearing the news of John the Baptist’s death must have been quite a blow. Not only was Jesus losing a kindred soul, possibly even his cousin, this calculated murder through the agency of Herod’s wife does not bode well for Jesus’ future. He needs time to mourn, to think, to prepare, and probably just to spend a day with no demands or conversations. So when he gets out of the boat in his preferred ‘deserted place,’ there are the crowds he sought to leave behind. You can just imagine how they press in on him, expecting to have his touch for their infirmities, his inspiration for their dry religion, his ability to give them hope. All of this at his most depleted. “He had compassion on them, and cured their sick.”
Perhaps the disciples were trying to cut Jesus some slack when they suggested sending everyone away at dinner time. How else would such a crowd be able to remain with them if there was nothing to eat? Their solution? Tell everyone to go home now. After a day of witnessing Jesus’ extraordinary ability to share God’s power and love with a giant crowd, to heal countless numbers of sick and distressed people, the disciples cannot imagine any other solution to hungry group than to throw up their hands at their scarce resources and send people home. “Nah.” says Jesus, “You give them something to eat.” Haven’t they been paying attention at all to the resource before them in the person of Jesus himself? When they admit that they have some food, but not much, Jesus’ answer is, “Bring it to me.”
This is the only story of Jesus’ actions that shows up in every Gospel. This is such a powerful story that whenever the stories of Jesus’ ministry were told, this story was included. Actually, in Matthew and Mark, Jesus also feeds another crowd of 4,000. I’ve heard Biblical scholars try to explain how it might have happened. They speculate that when Jesus prayed and passed around all that the disciples brought with them, other people felt free to pull out their own provisions and share them around and therefore there was enough for everyone. The miracle, they say, is what happened in the hearts of the crowd that day, and the lesson is that through God’s empowering willingness to give away everything, people are inspired to give also. Well, OK. That makes a good story. Not much mystery, not much razzle-dazzle; it tends to put Jesus in the category of a good example instead of someone who shows us God’s extraordinary power to create what is needed out the miniscule resources we bring.
Instead, I think that Jesus just might have had a bit of an edge. “What do you think you’ve been watching all day? Just a guy with a big heart muscling up because he feels sorry for people? You have been watching God’s love give me the power I need to go beyond human endurance to meet the needs of people who have nowhere else to turn! You have seen the power of God at work to create healing and peace for poor and oppressed people who are at their last hope. It is God’s touch that heals, it is God’s power that makes it possible to keep going in the face of exhaustion and grief. Send them away? They are not afraid to ask God for what they need, are your hearts and minds closed to the power of God you have witnessed today? Bring your stuff to me.”
I don’t know about you, but I have dozens of stories about how God can make a way when there is no way – as my African American friends say. Times when I couldn’t imagine how to make something happen that was clearly beyond my strength or resources. In those times, the mystery of God’s powerful love seemed to be the deciding factor in the doors that opened, the healing that came to be, the check that showed up in the mail. I am certain you have as many stories as I do. And still we worry, still we wring our hands in fear, still we look at the scarcity of resources we see and forget that there might be something more.
The same is true in our civic lives. We see the shortages around us – people who worry about how they’ll feed their families after they get off work, people whose jobs don’t pay enough for rent and medical care. We think of the lack of resources we can muster to fix the world’s problems. A cartoon keeps showing up on my FB feed in various formats. It’s a man talking to another man, saying: “I keep wanting to ask God why he doesn’t do something about hungry people and sick children.” The other says, “And why don’t you?” The man says, “Because I’m afraid God’s going to ask me the same question?”
With Jesus, you notice, there is always enough. Always enough. Enough love. Enough vision. Enough courage. Enough resources to take care of what people need. And so often, we only see the five loaves and two fish as nothing – not enough to ask for a miracle. How would our lives change if we assumed that there is always enough? Enough for us, enough for everyone we care about, enough for people we don’t even know, if we just bring everything to Jesus, and expect that our hearts will be changed to see that in Jesus’ name and through God’s love there will always be enough.