The Miracle of Enough - Matthew 14:13-21
One day in mid-March, my husband came home with a 50 pound bag of oats.
CT was about to go into lock down, and even though grocery stores were going to stay open. It wasn’t exactly clear what the supply chain was going to look like.
My husband figured, ‘at least we can eat oatmeal.” Needless to say, we are still eating oatmeal. I was talking with some clergy colleagues this week, they had similar stories of pandemic purchases. 50 pounds of flour, brick sized cakes bakers’ yeast, and giant tubs of butter. It seemed like everyone was trying their best to be prepared for a situation beyond our control.
The crowds on hillside were not as well prepared in our Gospel lesson today.
Perhaps they hadn’t expected that Jesus would wander so far into the wilderness;
Maybe they had planned to leave earlier, but lost track of time.
Whatever the reason, 5000 men plus their families were out in the countryside, late in the day, With no rations and nowhere to buy them. In Rome, this was formula for a riot.
The disciples were not prepared for this eventuality either. They were the ones who noticed the lengthening shadows, the restlessness of the children, The growling in their own stomachs. They said, “send the people into the villages to buy food.”
Imagine their dismay when Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
Was catering part of the job description for being a disciple of Jesus?
And where were they supposed to get enough food to feed this crowd?
If you read between the lines, Matthew gives indication
that even Jesus may not have been prepared for this scenario.
Matthew begins the story, “Now when Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist,
He withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
The flow of the narrative is that Jesus had been busy teaching the crowds in various Jewish towns, When he was stopped in his tracks by the news of the murder of his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus often retreated to a deserted place when he wanted to pray,
and that is exactly what he chose to do now.
It makes sense he would want some time to himself in the wake of the shock and sadness of that news. The last thing he was prepared for was a big crowd clamoring for his attention.
I thought of Jesus, the disciples, and crowds in our story today as I took in the headline of the July edition of National Geographic: Why We Weren’t Prepared For The Coronavirus
There are many answers to that question from a public health and leadership point of view.
But on a personal level, I think most of us can say we were not prepared for the emotional and spiritual fortitude this pandemic would require of us The temptation to stock up and provide for ourselves, and let others fend for themselves is real As is the desire to return to some kind of ‘normal’ without truly thinking through what our actions might mean for the broader community. In both cases, the temptation is to think individually about ourselves and our needs Without considering fully the needs of others. And so I look to Jesus in this story. Like us, he was in a situation where it could be argued the best solution would be what the disciples proposed: Send the people away so they can provide for themselves.
That would prioritize limited resources for the needs of Jesus and the disciples.
Frankly that is a responsible thing to do—what good would Jesus and his disciples be if they were weakened from hunger? Like the announcement on the airplane, this is common wisdom That you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.
But Jesus does almost the opposite: Matthew says, that when Jesus “saw the crowd, he had compassion for them.” He healed their sick and spent the whole day with them.
And then, when it was late, and everyone needed to eat, Jesus took the food they had, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples to distribute. Instead of guarding his resources and rationing them to provide for himself and those closest to him, Jesus tapped into his reserves and shared them with everyone.
The miracle is that despite all the lack of preparation, it was enough.
This story of the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle of Jesus that appears in all four gospels. It is a miracle of spiritual feeding, of trusting in God to provide for our needs.
But I am struck upon this reading that this miracle also illustrates that God cares about bodies as well as souls. This story connects the spiritual discipline of trust to the spiritual practice of caring for others’ physical needs. Like the apostle James would later write,
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, [a] if you say you have faith but do not have works? … 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
In this story of the feeding of the 5000, Jesus unites prayer and action,
Powerfully illustrating that the life of faith is not complete without both. Within the issue of National Geographic, I was struck by comments made by a journalist Reporting of the spread of the disease in Kenya, and their efforts to stem the tide despite limited health infrastructure. He told the story of a fashion designer in Nairobi who converted his business
to sewing and handing out colorful face masks for free. The fashioner designer explained his decision, saying, “we’re all responsible for one another.” We are all responsible for one another.
It takes a special kind of sight to understand this. Which is why I said that Jesus did almost the opposite of the natural human inclination; Jesus did not ration and leave others to fend for themselves, like we might. But he did prioritize his own needs. You see, Jesus understood a fundamental truth that often alludes us: His needs were connected to everyone else’s needs. Prioritizing their needs included his.
The key to his understanding was prayer—that’s where Jesus saw the connection
that all humans are a part of the same family of God. Prayer was the source from which Jesus’ action sprang. Prayer was where Jesus found the answer to the seeming dilemma of the bread So that Jesus could show us the true miracle – that there really is enough –
For you, for me, for the whole world. I think it is important to notice that Jesus accomplishes the miracle of enough through the disciples’ hands. They are the ones who pass out the bread and fish, and who collect the leftovers. Jesus could have done it himself, but he chose to include the disciples. Likewise, God chooses to do the world of satisfying the needs of every living thing through our hands. This is a deep responsibility.
In fact, it is our calling. To unite prayer and action. To use the best of our intellect to figure out how to share the abundance of the earth with all its inhabitants To understand our needs as intimately connected to the needs of others And to open our eyes to the miracle that there is indeed enough.
Pastor Julie - 8/2/2020