Sunday after Pentecost
/ July 31, 2005 /
If there ever was a Bible story that portrayed Jesus as being so “human” that he smelled…in other words, can you imagine Jesus as having body odor? Then this, in my opinion, is the story. A part from Jesus’ resurrection, this is the only miracle story that appears in all four of the Gospels. Which should give us a hint as to how important this particular story was when it came to portraying just how “human” Jesus really was.
What the Gospel writer, Matthew, fails to let us in on…is that at this point in Jesus’ ministry…things are not going well. Jesus has just come from spending time in his hometown of Nazareth, only to be rejected and driven out of town. While at the same time, his disciples have just returned from being sent out in pairs to try their hand at doing ministry on their own…when they return with some pretty bad news.
John the Baptist…is dead. John…the one who not only baptized Jesus but who probably had taken Jesus under his wing as a young man and in time had become a very important mentor not to mention a close personal friend. If you have ever lost someone close to you…then you know what Jesus was feeling. His heart is being ripped apart at the seams…and he wants to be left alone. He knows that he needs time to allow himself to not only grieve the loss of his friend, but to possibly even rethink his entire approach to ministry. And yet…when the crowds pursue him, Jesus…moved by compassion…chooses their need over his own and stops to heal their sick. He sees their need (whatever it may be) as an “opportunity” to show compassion. And when we think about it…isn’t that a wonderful model for “doing ministry” out in our world today.
We have teams of people who go out from this place at least once a month to the local homeless shelter. And what they find when they get there are people…much like you and me…who have basic needs that need to be met. Some folks are in need of physical food…having not eaten a good square meal in perhaps days. Others come in search of human companionship…in need of fellowship and good conversation that comes in the midst of a safe and secure setting. I know that our church has become known as the ‘meatloaf church’…which when you think about it…actually sounds pretty yummy! And yet you and I both know…that it isn’t just the food that these people come to receive. What they are really looking for…only Jesus can give. And if you ask me, that’s where today’s story really begins.
The hour is late, or so we are told. And the people have been out in the hot sun all day long…listening to Jesus teach…and to marvel at how many he has healed. It is the disciples who come to Jesus and dare to tell him what he undoubtedly already knows. They logically assume that the people have no food to eat and no water to drink, and no means of being fed unless they are sent away. Jesus’ answer could not have been more surprising: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The story then unfolds in a few predictable actions. The disciples have only 5 loaves (count them)…1…2…3…4…5 loaves of bread and 2 very small fish. In other words, in their minds…with so many people to feed (over 5000 men, women and children), and with such meager rations…they might as well have nothing.
And the truth is…they are right! With an attitude like theirs…that is exactly what they have! No imagination…not even a glimmer of hope for doing something miraculous…because they can not see beyond their own capabilities. Jesus, on the other hand, simply says: “Bring them here to me.” The crowd sits…and Jesus takes the food, blesses it, breaks it, and then gives it to the disciples who then distribute it to the people. What we are told, by Matthew and all of the other Gospel writers, is that all…all 5,000 men plus women and children (which could have been as many as 10,000 people all total)…all ate…and were filled.
The real miracle, if you ask me, began way back at the beginning of today’s story when Jesus chose not to withdraw and retreat (even though every fiber in his body was begging him to do so) and not to shrink the story down to personal safety and survival. When faced with a very “human” crowd of folks who were sick, who were hungry and in real need, Jesus turned from flight to embody God’s compassion and grace. And in the process, challenged every single one of his disciples, including us, to do the same.
The truth be told, God’s story is far more encompassing and far more embracing than we can ever begin to imagine. And if I hear what Jesus is saying to us today, it is Jesus himself who insists that this story is one of enveloping compassion at it’s very heart.
All that people have to do to be fed is to be hungry and in need.
No creeds, no spiritual or ritual pedigrees, no vows of loyalty are required. “You give them something to eat,” Jesus charges his disciples then…and today. To all who come, whether to be healed, to be fed, to doubt or to simply lay on our backs…as helpless as an infant about to be baptized…Jesus insists that the church claim a story BIG enough to hold them all. In other words, ‘they need not go away’. Jesus can take whatever we have to offer, and despite what we think…blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to those in need. And, wonder of wonders, it is always enough. Matthew says, “all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, 12 baskets full.”
The truth be known, there really wasn’t enough to go around. There was more than enough. Thanks be to God the same can still be said today. Amen