The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 14th Chapter
Now when Jesus heard about the beheading 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 on 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.
Out of Maine, across Massachusetts, South from Great Barrington toward Sheffield. It was later and darker than we wanted but we were on the way! Then we saw a big, orange sign. It said, “BUMP”. It was a sign... a literal sign... but not one from God. Still, it was a sign and it was meant to get us to do something more than just admire how orange it was. The sign’s goal was to get people to slow down before they hit that BUMP, which, in hind sight (my very best sight!) seemed to be a bit of an understatement. I’d probably have chosen a sign that said “CHASM” or “ABYSS” rather than just “BUMP.”
In the same way, the miracle in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t there just for the wow factor even though it’s a wow-worthy miracle for sure! Five Thousand men plus women and children… five loaves, two fish, everyone fed and twelve baskets of leftovers! That’s amazing! But amazing folks wasn’t the goal of that miracle. The amazing sign was meant to help the disciples DO something and that’s the hard part… it was meant to help them give the people something to eat.
Give them something to eat… that’s the challenge, and when the disciples heard that challenge they replied, and I quote from the Greek, “hummana, hummana, hummana!” This was a crowd of maybe 15,000 people! No ATM around. No Big Y! No commercial kitchen! It seemed impossible! The disciple’s solution? Panic! Ask them to go away! Drive though McDonalds on your way home, people! Bye! But into the disciple’s panic Jesus calmly said, “Give them something to eat”. That’s our challenge from Jesus too. Give them something to eat... and even though our situation is different than it was for those original disciples… we have more than a dozen disciples; we have an ATM and even a Big Y… when you look at the population of Southern Berkshire county, the numbers STILL seem just as overwhelming!
The people though... they’re the same now as they were then. Some are belly hungry. But more are hungry to know God’s unconditional love for them. Hungry to be included. Hungry for justice. Hungry for deeper relationships. Hungry for community. Hungry for a connection with the Divine and for deeper meaning for their lives. Hungry for a life they feel matters. All those hungers are the same now as they were then, and those feelings, that this is an overwhelming challenge for us to feed ALL of them… that’s the same too! How can so few, do so much? What do we have to feed so many? It’s so overwhelming it becomes tempting to say, or maybe act in a way that says, “go somewhere else to be fed.”
But Jesus tells us disciples now, the same thing he told those disciples then. “They don’t need to go away; YOU give them something to eat.” When those disciples back then heard that, their little disciple minds exploded! Jesus, you must be insane! We have nothing…NOTHING... well, all right, we’ve got these five loaves but other than that we’ve got NOTHING… well, we’ve also got a couple of fish, but what’s that? It’s NOTHING... isn’t it?
The thing about panic is it really doesn’t help anyone see what they DO have and it makes it impossible to see how the things we have might come together in creative ways to solve problems. In their panic, those disciples forgot about the bread, they forgot about the fish AND they forgot about JESUS! But we shouldn't be too hard on the disciples then or on us disciples now. Humans have been automatically running from scary things without thinking since they started running from saber tooth tigers! It’s an instinctual, animal response for survival. In those moments of overwhelming panic, we stop using our slower moving, deeper thinking human brains and just RUN and if you're being chased by a tiger that's the PERFECT response! Unfortunately it's not a very sophisticated response so even when a scary thing isn't a tiger, we still lose the ability to see the gifts around us or how they might come together to take a step toward a creative solution. In those moments of panic, we even forget the power of God, present with us in Christ! THAT's why we need a sign!
The feeding of the 5000 is a sign. It’s a sign written in large, bold letters so we can read it even when we’re running away in an overwhelmed panic. It doesn’t say CHASM, ABYSS or even BUMP. It says JESUS. It’s a sign that calls us back from our panic… calls us to stop, look and see the loaves, the fish, the Christ hiding in plain sight, always right in our midst! It's a sign that reminds us we too have gifts! And we DO have amazing gifts here! If the gifts of this church were loaves and fishes we’d have enough to make fish sandwiches for everyone from North Cannon to Stockbridge... with left overs! AND, lest we forget... we’ve also got Jesus!
It’s true, there are a few more than five thousand people outside those doors and that’s scary. But here’s another truth… they’re hungry. Hungry for something to eat, but also hungry for a life with meaning and purpose. Hungry for inclusion, justice, healing and a wholeness that comes with a deepening connection with the unconditional love of God. It’s a hunger they try to feed with all sorts of stuff, none of which ever makes a dent. Jesus has called you and me to feed them together. Not to ask if they’re worthy, but simply to feed them for no other reason than they’re hungry.
It's a scary challenge! But here's the Good News... God’s got this. God’s got us. We’ll forget that. Being human, that’s what we do. But when that happens we’ll hold up a sign… a little, round piece of bread at that Table there... and in that little, round piece of bread, we'll be reminded again that Christ is with us... our most valuable resource is with us... always with us... calming our fears, helping us to stop and look and see the abundance we’ve been given and giving us the power to go out those doors to feed the world without condition, simply because the folks out there... they need something to eat. Amen.