August 02, 2020
Proper 13 / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” The Gospel verses immediately prior to our lesson for today tell us of the death of John the Baptist by beheading—this is what Jesus had just heard and, today’s verses in Matthew’s Gospel pick up with Jesus’ response, to find respite in a place far from any town or others. The crowd he’d just been teaching and healing, however, follow him to this deserted spot. When Jesus sees them, he has compassion for them, and puts his personal plan to be alone, aside. He accepts them where they are, and steps into this crowd, healing their sick.
The day is filled with this—with people, a lot of people…over 5,000, and with Jesus interacting with this large crowd. The day finally winds down, and Jesus’ disciples come to him with a practical concern. “It is getting late,” they say, “so send the crowds away to town so they can buy food for themselves.” This is one practical solution. But this is not the solution Jesus seizes upon. “You give them something to eat,” Jesus replies. This must have felt like a splash of cold water in their faces! The disciples stick with their own reality when they give a factual report: “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” This is a completely impossible proposition—to feed 5,000 plus with so little. Like the disciples, I’m sure it is, and I’ll bet you’re sure it is! …Jesus, however, saw something different!
We know the rest of this miracle story. Jesus asks that the five loaves and two fish be brought to him. Instead of asking the crowd to leave, he asks them to sit. Jesus then blesses and breaks the loaves and asks his disciples to distribute them. And they do. The disciples distribute and share and give away loaves and loaves and loaves, and fishes and fishes and fishes to a crowd numbered at 5,000 men, plus women and children—let’s just guess a crowd somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 people—the size of the town I grew up in. And when they are finished eating with Jesus, the disciples gather the leftovers into twelve baskets.
Yes. This is an amazing story! The actual event was so incredible, as a matter of fact, that this is the only gospel story recorded by all four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Aside from just being an amazing story, an incredible story, this story is a lesson that holds insights into Jesus and keys for us today. The insight into Jesus, I believe, is that Jesus truly was both God and man. At the news of his cousin’s death, Jesus responds humanly—to get away, to process his grief; to be alone and to recover. The Godly Jesus, however was not solely driven by this tragic news and grief, but opened his heart to feel compassion for the people who followed him. The God in Jesus was fully capable of healing their sick and more than that, capable of mysteriously multiplying this small amount of food to feed thousands.
The keys in this story, I believe, are that Jesus met the crowd as they were—seeking, sick, and eventually hungry. He had no threshold to impose. Jesus never expected that to be in his company you must be “good company,” that is, clever, attractive, well-off, or healthy. Jesus accepted people where they were in his days on earth and Jesus does so now. Jesus accepts us where we are—worried, frightened, anxious, confused, weary, tired of today’s issues: the pandemic, national strife; separation, isolation, oppression; a saging economy and threatening personal finances; death.
As well-meaning and yet, short-sighted as the disciples were, if they were alive today, if this whole vignette was replayed today with today’s issues, I think the disciples might come to Jesus and say, “It is getting late and these people are hungry for peace and for reassurance. Why don’t you tell them, Jesus, to go away so they can get their needs filled?” And, loving Jesus would respond, “Why don’t you fill them with what they are seeking?”
As a disciple of Jesus, my initial response is just as realistic and just as limited as my ancestor disciples. “How can I do that? I have a little of what they need… but the need is so great, and what I have to offer is so small in comparison.” And the Jesus in my heart and mind, the Jesus of my soul, responds—just like the Jesus that was sitting right in front of those disciples that day in that deserted place where they were surrounded by a hungry multitude. I know Jesus will say the same thing to me as he said to those disciples, “Bring me what you have.” And when I act in faith, and bring Jesus my talents and thoughts, my God-given gifts—some of which I tend to overlook, when I bring Jesus my attitude of service, and my physical possessions, Jesus blesses and multiplies these.
Now, maybe this multiplication is done by giving me a sense of greater strength or ability—a confidence to succeed at helping; maybe it is done by connecting me with others whose interests, skills, talents and abilities mirror or compliment my own; and maybe it is done as mystery—mystery that I will never understand, nor need to.
Having met Jesus, here I stand now, with a basketful to give, rather than only the handful that I thought I had. And multiply those basketsful by the number of people in this church, multiply those basketsful by the number of Christ followers in this land, multiply them by the number of Christians in this world, and there is a power there for the negative forces of the world to reckon with. With the power of Jesus, we are not weak victims, only capable of recoiling from the next wave of bad news. …and there is bad news in the world—I’m guessing there is as much bad news today as there has ever been, but listen: This is the nature of the world.
Since humans got involved, the world has not been a garden of peace. While there is good in the world—after all, God created it—there is enough negativity, evil and strife to undo the goodwill of the most well-meaning person. Together, with God-Jesus and with each other, we can make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others. Holding nothing but an intention to love God, self and others, we can make a difference. Treating others as we would like to be treated, we can make a difference. Yes, if we only fulfill the promises we made when we became Christians, those promises at our baptism, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, we can make a difference; to strive for justice and peace among all people, we can make a difference; to respect the dignity of every human being, we can make a difference.
To feed them, the disciples gathered up what amounted to crumbs compared to the size of the crowd. They didn’t falter and say, “Stop. This is ridiculous.” Their inner voice and talk with each other must have been more like, “This seems impossible. I can’t wait to see how Jesus our Master will transform this!”
So here’s a little spiritual practice for this coming week: Look for those times—and I don’t think you’ll have to look far—when things seem difficult or impossible, and rather than just accept how you perceive it, bring what you have to Jesus—yes, the situation, but also your willingness to listen and learn, your gifts, strengths, talents, abilities, your faithfulness and try something new—like feed several thousand with what you’re holding in your hands. Trust in Jesus to transform the situation. Allow Jesus to work in our lives. Allow divine transformation to happen!
~Fr, Tony Moon