Lectionary 18 A
Prayer of the Day
Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 55:1-5 – Eat and drink that which truly satisfies
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5 – The glory of God’s people Israel
Matthew 14:13-21 – Christ feeding five thousand
Title: Send the Crowds Here
What a great story to have as our gospel reading for today, the feeding of the five thousand, as we begin a seventh year of ministry together. It’s about food – always a great element in the midst of marking an anniversary. It’s about people coming together – key on a day when we think of living and working together in community as the body of Christ. It’s about serving others – important to bring into the conversation as we re-commit to the work to which we are called.
I especially welcome this text on this day because for me it has always been a wonderful, comforting and encouraging allegory for the seeming impossibility of the mission that God calls us to as Jesus’ disciples. In the story, as in our experiences, there are so many who need something from us and we appear to not have enough to satisfy the demands – the equivalent of five little loaves of bread and two fish in the face of 5,000. Probably crackers and small fish at that. Perhaps five saltines and two Sardines even. In our eyes just not enough to even put a dent in the demand. And as we continue to be a small congregation with as ever growing ministry and mission in this place, we look with faith to Jesus, whose blessing multiples our scarcity into God’s abundance. More than is humanly possible is accomplished because the Holy Spirit is at work in us, through us, and in spite of us. Yes, this inspiring and motivating message and meaning of this story has always been my way in and seems like a good entry point on this day of taking first steps into the new chapter of our life together.
But I’m hearing something different today. Another part of the story is stuck in my craw. Maybe it is the changed landscape – especially politically. Maybe it’s because I’ve been here 6 years – on my resume, that’s longer than I’ve ever stayed in any full time position, and I am seeing work-related issues, more deeply. Maybe it’s this place and time – the front lines of urban ministry in the 21st century. Maybe I’m just getting older (I’ll let others judge if that means wiser.) Maybe that wisdom of age is showing itself through more honest reflection of my own shortcomings and inadequacies. My life experience is not letting me get away with the sweetness of the usual allegory of blessed multiplication.
Whatever is causing it, I’m stuck on four very real words attributed to the disciples that I am taking quite literally: send the crowds away. It’s in verse 15 and it reads: 15When it was evening, the disciples came to [Jesus] and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Send the crowds away – there are too many of them and not enough of us. Send the crowds away – they have needs that we cannot satisfy. Send the crowds away – we don’t know them, they are not a part of us. Send the crowds away –let’s just hang as the small group in which we find comfort.
Politically – I’m stuck on these four words because I see there is much too much “sending people away” right now by our country that boasts itself to be a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles and that claims itself to be one nation under God. We are sending crowds of folks away from proper health insurance and care – because we wrongly imagine that we don’t have enough to satisfy everyone. We are sending away the threatened environment and its needs for the changing of behaviors in ourselves so that restoration might happen, and greater harmony might be achieved. We are literally sending away crowds of immigrants and refugees, dividing families on formalities because of a myth of scarcity and a conjured climate of fear. We are sending away from opportunities to live full lives, folks whose lives we do not necessarily understand (people of a transgender experience in particular). We are sending away from justice and equality, people whose race and/or ethnicity is different from the majority, different from the power brokers. The list goes on. The list is growing. So many are being sent away.
And while it is important to highlight these, learn of these, and especially stand with those who are being sent away, use our influence and privilege as ones who are perhaps not being sent away to stop the sending away, and challenge us a nation to serve them; we cannot only point the finger at others and judge their failures. We must this day and always, look at ourselves, in this specific, smaller place, and see where we are “sending the crowds away.”
I confess to you that I do this on a regular basis. Oh, my reasons always seem good. I send them away because I have limited resources; I can’t be helping everyone that comes knocking on our door. I send them away because I don’t believe I can help them. I send them away because I don’t want them to become dependent on me or on St. John’s. I send them away because I don’t believe the story they are telling me. I send them away because I am just too busy. God forgive me, I send them away.
And yet, through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, the minutia of my own five small loaves and two tiny fish are blessed and somehow someone is fed, someone feels welcomed, someone sits down and is comforted. Nothing to be proud of, just thankful that the fullness of God is working through the smallness of me, of us.
Squirming under my own harsh judgement, seeking the comfort of rationalization, I could come to the disciples defense and, on a practical note, point out that -having visited the site of that very large picnic on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee last year – I know that the villages that the disciples suggested sending the folks to were not very far away. It’s not like they were in the wilderness. Capernaum was close by. Bethsaida, and Chorazin, and Gennesaret, were not far walks either. Even the big town of Tiberius was within walking distance. And perhaps you, too, want to strike a practical, rational chord and come to my defense of doing what I have to do, as difficult as it may be. Just as you do what you must.
But Jesus is not calling us to be practical, protective, or passively compassionate. “You give them something to eat.” Jesus says to his disciples then and now. Not because we have enough for everyone, but because we have him in our midst. We share with others something to eat because Christ feeds us – at the table, with his presence, in the community of faith that we share, that we can share with others.
Give ear to Jesus’ command. Echo the invitation of God expressed through the prophet Isaiah. Invite in the ones we disagree with. Invite in the ones we don’t understand. Invite in the ones who are different. Invite in the ones who are afraid, who we are afraid of. Jesus calls us to act not based on our strengths and abilities, but rather act, in faith, based on the wants and needs of the ones the world is sending away. Share with them. Build relationship with them. Develop community with them. Provide for them. All in Jesus’ name. With Jesus’ multiplying blessings. Imitating what Jesus has done for us and with us.
Following this call will stretch us beyond our five loaves and two fish focus. Doing this work invites us to see ourselves, others, and our world in new ways. But that is what it means to walk in faith. A walk we are doing with Christ and with one another for the sake of the world. For the sake of the ones who are being sent away. Let us together hear Jesus say – they need not go away; you give them something to eat – and then follow his lead.
The Rev. Mark Erson,