SERMON 2 AUGUST 2020 | Revd Phil Austin |
One of the things that is delightful about reading the Gospel stories about Jesus is that each of them tells the story in a different way. As you know, only Matthew and Luke tell about Jesus’ birth. Only John likens the coming of Jesus to the Word of God taking on a human form. The Sermon on the Mount is unique to Matthew and only Luke tells the wonderful stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
But all four of the Gospel writers include the story of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude with a small amount of bread and fish. The presence of this story in all the Gospels is a clear indication that this was an important event for those first believers, capturing as it does Jesus’ concern for both the material and the spiritual needs of people. When they were sick, Jesus healed them, when they were sad, he encouraged them, and when they were hungry, he fed them. They found their fulfillment in Jesus, whom they called the Lord.
The disciples expressed a genuine concern to Jesus that the people would need to leave in order to avoid the problems of being stuck on the road, in the dark, with no food. This is a deserted place, they said, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves. At first the disciples seemed uncaring, but, in reality, this was a practical reason for apprehension.
But Jesus took a different approach: They need not go away; you give them something to eat. In calling for the disciples to get involved in this crisis of a temporary refugee people, Jesus established the expectation that his followers would use their compassion to make good things happen. This feeding of people in the wilderness was not to be a seen as some kind of razzle-dazzle spectacle to enhance Jesus’ fame and popularity among the people, but an insistence that Jesus’ followers distinguish themselves by their compassion, resourcefulness and generosity.
The Church treasures this story because it captures the way in which Jesus challenged his disciples to address a problem and not ignore it. Now the disciples were shocked by what Jesus was suggesting because, like many of us, the disciples approached problems with a theology of scarcity … we do not have enough, we cannot do this, it is out of the question, and we should not even try. We have only five loaves of bread here and two fish!
But Jesus wanted his disciples to think not in terms of what they did not have but rather in terms of what God had given them … a theology of plenty. The message in our Gospel lesson is that if we will embrace a challenge, bringing forward what we have, no matter how little, then God will do the rest. Many a Christian congregation has launched a noble endeavor, mounted a ministry of outreach, broken ground for a new building … not because they had the money in the bank but because they had the vision, they sensed the need, and they were willing to trust that God would provide.
We will never know for sure what happened that day when more than 5,000 hungry people were fed. Some believe that Jesus literally broke the bread and fish and they multiplied in a mystical manner so that a large quantity of food was produced. Another theory is that as Jesus and the disciples shared the little they had, and it encouraged others in the multitude to share what they had until a loving community was formed where each gave what he could and received what he needed. Isn’t that a miracle!
Since we cannot know precisely what happened, we must simply remember that this story took on profound importance for the early Church for some clear reasons:
The story is a sharp reminder that individual Christians must never be so wrapped up in their own problems or concerns that they withdraw from the world and refuse to provide the help and support when others are in need. Left alone we can easily think like the disciples and say: Send them away … they are not our concern. But this is not an attitude our Lord will accept. He calls us to be generous and share.
The story is a clear call for the Church of Jesus Christ to be a compassionate Church, which hears the cries of people and responds to their needs. You give them something to eat! It matters not whether they are like us, members of our families, or people of our ethnic background. If they are in need we must respond!
The story also reminds us that all people deserve our concern, as God’s instruments, simply by virtue of being in need, hungry, lost, and alone. The love of God is like a parent with open, welcoming arms. The love of God is like a mother who has fixed a meal that provides enough for all who are hungry.
Finally, the story reminds us of just what God can do when we give him what we have. Five loaves and two fish. That was not very much, as the world measures value. But then Jesus said those amazing words: Bring them to me! Suddenly what seemed like very little became the vehicle for a remarkable accomplishment. This is a wonderful time to be alive and to be the Church! Open your eyes, open your hearts. Listen for the quiet voice of Jesus. Do not be lost and do not abandon hope. May your love and unbounded compassion be bread for this world.