“5 + 2 = more than 5000”
August 6, 2017 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A
Glory be! There is Jesus and his special tribe – his disciples. I’d give anything to hear one of Jesus’ parables. I hear some of his stories are pretty incredible. I wonder what is going on. I’m going to tag along with the group. There are getting to be quite a crowd.
Unbenounced to me, Jesus was grieving the death of this cousin John the Baptist. John had been executed by Herod. Seeking solitude and grieving time, Jesus heads to the lake. Jesus wants some alone time where he can find refreshment and solace, so off in a boat he goes. But as he nears the shore Jesus realizes a large crowd has gathered. Talk about complex feelings. He wants to be by himself to grieve, but Jesus is filled with compassion for the crowd. So, to the shore he goes. Healing many, Jesus knows he made the right decision. But the disciples get antsy. It is getting late and the people should be sent away to find food. Just imagine what they are thinking when Jesus suggests that the disciples provide it. What can they do with 5 measly loaves and 2 fish! However, as you and I so well know, with Jesus, amazing things are possible. So, they give what they have and it is transformed through Christ’s blessing. The crowd was feed and 12 baskets were left over.
Why 12 baskets you wonder? If you have attended church for some time, or if you have read the Hebrew Scripture, more commonly called The Old Testament, you would be aware that there are 12 tribes of Israel. We also think back to the stories of manna in the wilderness and the miracle feedings of Elija and Elisha.
If you were paying attention when the Gospel story was read, you would have noticed the text states that there were 5000 men fed, not counting the women and children. We might more accurately call this miracle story the feeding of the 20,000.
This story – an amazing parable – a dramatic tale – is all about God’s incredible love. There is enough for all – enough nourishment, enough hope, enough love. Love multiplies when it is shared. It reminds me of the old camp song, “Magic Penny.”
Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.
It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.
Willa Cather suggests that “Where there is great love there are always miracles.” Today’s story is a clear example of this truth. It describes Jesus’ compassion with such clarity. The most basic need, food for hungry stomachs, was accommodated. While I was at seminary we learned much about Liberation Theology, with its preferential option for the poor. That was not simply a vogue and timely topic, but rather a lens by which we can understand Jesus’ ministry priorities. Be compassionate is what Jesus models for us.
We have modern day feeding of the 5,000 when the Canadian Food Grains Bank provides one tonne of food, and the Canadian government (through CIDA) adds 4 more. Sadly, it’s not enough, especially when it’s so hard to get to where it’s needed. But, it is a good attempt.
When I served a church in Stayner Ontario, one of our farmers each year, planted one quarter in wheat designated for the Food Grains Bank. When harvest time came, area farmers brought their combines and trucks to the field and in an afternoon the field was harvested, the seed taken to the elevator and a community wide BBQ was held. It was a great time of celebration, knowing that the hungry of the world would be fed 4 times more than that field produced. The Canadian government quadrupled the worth of the crop.
Go and do. That is the message we see lived out by the disciples. Rather than standing back fretting over the lack of food, they gave what they had to Jesus and he bless it. Then the disciples dispersed it among the crowd. The call to go and do is expressed in concrete acts of love, justice and compassion towards others. There is a common Texas saying – “Long as I got a biscuit, you got half.” Is there a better goal than this for a global food distribution policy?
A woman from an American congregation leads medical missions several times a year. She constantly asks drug companies for samples to take along. Before her last trip to Vietnam, she asked a vitamin company for some samples. One day, a UPS man came to her in the clinic and said, “I’ve got a ton of drugs for you. Where shall I put them?”
“Just put them on my desk.”
“No, lady, I have a ton of drugs for you.”
She is still giving away vitamins to shelters for the homeless and sharing with other doctors going on mission trips. She doesn’t expect to be able to give them all away until some-time next year?
We as a community of faith have been trying to live out the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. We donate to the Mission and Service fund of the United Church of Canada. Last year over $20,000 was donated by Penticton United Church for projects like First United Church in Vancouver’s eastside, funding 7 Canadian theological colleges, youth programs through the Vision fund, chaplains at University of Victoria, Right Relations initiatives with indigenous people, and supporting global peace and justice programs. We join with other United Churches in raising over $25 million each year for the Mission and Service fund.
God loves us deeply and passionately. Out of that love we experience the compassion, generosity, and grace that Jesus Christ modelled. While we bathe in such infinite mercy, the Holy One promises us “life in fullness.” Experiencing God’s call, we accept the invitation to be disciples. May you be fed for the challenge. Amen.