YOU Give Them Something to Eat – Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard [about the death of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples came to him 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.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Usually, we think about the feeding of the 5,000 as one of Jesus’ great miracles – maybe THE great miracle, if there were a popularity contest. (You’ve got water to wine, walking on water, a healing here and there, and this feeding of the 5,000, right?) So we wonder about how in the world Jesus could take just two fish and five loaves and stretch them to feed that many people. We marvel at all those leftovers – 12 baskets full – and the idea that if there were about 5,000 men – not including women and children – how many people Jesus really must have fed at the end of that day.
I’ve wondered before at the compassion Jesus had to muster for the crowds that afternoon, when all he really wanted was to be alone to grieve after learning that his cousin and friend, John the Baptist, had just died. It’s amazing to think about all of the people he must have healed or taught or sat down to listen to, in the midst of his grief. And I’ve always wondered what it was that he said to himself when he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke that bread, before doing what he did with it.
But the disciples were there too. And while it’s easy to wonder about all of the other stuff – to focus on the size of the crowds and the lack of food and the miracle of it all – this time around, I found myself thinking about more about the disciples.
It had been a long day and they were probably tired. “Come on Jesus. Time’s up. Let’s lose this crowd and get something to eat,” they said. “These people are probably hungry and ready to get some food for themselves anyway. Let’s get them out of here so we can do the same.”
And in the face of their questions… in response to their doubts… in spite of their laziness, whatever it may have been for them, Jesus says, “YOU give them something to eat.”
“What do you mean, ‘feed them’? Maybe you haven’t noticed, Jesus, but there’s like 5,000 of them on this hill and all we brought with us is a couple of stinky fish and a few loaves of bread.”
“YOU give them something to eat.”
See, the miracle’s a good one and it makes a great story, but if we only focus on what Jesus prayed or on trying to figure out how he did what he did, or on the crowds or the fish or the bread – we’re missing the point. Just like last week’s Gospel really wasn’t about yeast or mustard seeds; and just like the week before wasn’t really about weeds, good seeds, or gardening; today isn’t really about fish or bread or a picnic on the hillside. For me, the Gospel – the Good News – in the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is found in Jesus’ short and simple response to the disciples.
“YOU give them something to eat.”
Sure the disciples are still skeptical. Yes Jesus does whatever he does to make the food go as far as it did. But, what he says and what the disciples do is even more profound and powerful if you ask me: “YOU give them something to eat.” Don’t send them away. Don’t look for a way out. Don’t hope for someone else to do it. Don’t wait for tomorrow, even. “YOU give them something to eat.”
And don’t we sound and act like the disciples too much of the time? We don’t have enough bread – whether that means time, or money; energy, willingness, or ability; faith, love, compassion, or whatever. We’re skeptical. We’re pessimistic. We’re preoccupied, distracted, lazy, uninspired, selfish, insecure, unconvinced – just like those disciples were that day. A lot of the time, if you’re anything like me, you’re just downright full of excuses.
But just like the disciples in the Gospel, Jesus gives us something greater than even our best excuses. He gives us more than just another miracle, too. He gives us something better even then bread and fish to chew on. Jesus reveals to us just what a high opinion God has – not only of the lost and lonely; the sick and needy people on that hillside that day for whom he shows so much compassion – but Jesus reveals to us what a high opinion God has of those who believe in and who want to follow him so faithfully.
What I hear Jesus saying is, “Don’t wait for someone else to do it.” “Don’t pretend you don’t have the time or the skills or the resources to do God’s bidding in the world.” “Don’t pretend you’re not qualified or capable.” “Don’t put it off for another day or time or moment when it might be more convenient for you.” “Don’t even wait for me to do it in your place.”
“YOU give them something to eat.”
A few weeks ago, Derek and Sara Ostermeyer approached me about ways to provide our food pantry families with even more than the canned, processed food we’ve been able to offer until now. Because of her heart for the idea and a passion for gardening, Sara has a plan to start growing and sharing fresh vegetables through our Groceries of Grace Food Pantry in the future. We will, very literally, be giving people something more and better and good to eat, along with all the rest, thanks to Sara’s willingness to make it happen.
With the beginning of the new school year, Pastor Aaron heard there was some grumbling from parents in the community about the handful of half days we’ll have over the course of the school year in New Palestine. The grumbling is all about how hard it is to find daycare for working parents on those afternoons. So we’re opening Cross of Grace to host and entertain and care for as many as 50 elementary aged kids on those days in the year ahead. We’re grateful for those of you who’ve already agreed to help, and we hope it will meet a need for some hungry people in a new way.
A month or so go, Kim Wingo, e-mailed to let me know she was looking into starting a new support group for people dealing with suicide. And she’s made that happen. Because of a need in her own life and a perceived need in our community, a new group meets on Thursday nights at 5, in Greenfield. She’s feeding a hunger and meeting a need – she’s taken it upon herself to give people something meaningful to eat.
Isn’t there some way each of us might feed someone, too? Maybe it’s that co-worker you know could use a hand or some encouragement… Maybe it’s a neighbor who’s having a hard time… Maybe it’s something around here – helping with Sunday school, sharing a meal, starting a new small group of your own this fall. Let’s not wait for someone else to do it. Let’s not pretend we aren’t capable or qualified or called, even, to respond to the needs around us. And let’s not wait for Jesus to do it all by himself.
No, let’s be amazed by the story. Let’s wonder about the miracle of Jesus. But let’s think about our mission here, too – as a congregation and as individual followers of Christ. Let’s hear Jesus’ command to give the world something to eat. And let’s realize that we have all we need to make that happen – that because of God’s love for us, we are called and capable of doing the work of Christ in and for the sake of the world – and that when we do, there will be more than enough of that love and grace and hope to go around – with leftovers besides.