I have not been able to get away from this all week — my wondering at what this must have been for Jesus.
- To have received the terrible, terrifying news of John’s gruesome death.
To have stepped away from it all by himself, tending his own grief, no doubt, his own fear at what this must mean for himself, for the world that such as this could even happen. That a truth teller’s life could be abruptly cut short by the guilt, the fear, the callous hearts of the privileged powerful.
- To have been called away from that quiet place too soon only to be met by a crowd of thousands with all their aching need on full display.
To wonder if his disciples were ever going to really ‘get it’ as he turns aside their suggestion that the hungry crowd be turned away. As he picks up a meager lunch, blesses it, and then puts those still growing disciples to work passing out the gifts of God.
- How is it even possible, I wonder, that with his own heart broken wide open, Jesus still is able to see and respond to the needs of thousands?
And those disciples, can you even begin to imagine what this must have been for them?
Without a doubt, take whatever measure of fear that Jesus must have been feeling and multiply that over again and again. For you will notice that Jesus went off by himself to regroup, to pray, to be filled again. And yet, from what we know of them so far, I cannot imagine that the disciples did the same. Rather, I can just see them huddled together in Jesus’ absence, telling and retelling the gruesome details of John’s untimely, unjust demise until they have worked themselves into a fever pitch of anxiety. Of terror. No wonder then that when they catch up with Jesus that their imaginations are spent and all they can think to do is send that unending crowd away.
- But then what must it have been for them when Jesus insists that they feed that endless crowd instead?
How deep must their skepticism have run when they brought him five loaves of bread and a couple of fish and looked on as Jesus lifted them to the sky in blessing?
- I mean, might they have been at least a bit afraid of stepping into the throng of those gathered with so little to give them, believing there be nowhere near enough and that they would be blamed for sharing with one and not another?
And oh, can’t you just feel their excitement building as they gave and gave and gave and there was always more to give?
- Indeed, at what point do you suppose they realized that there was no way they alone could possibly reach everyone there and so they recruited others to join in to do the same, to join in passing along these simple, marvelous gifts of God?
Oh my, can’t you just feel the rush of energy building as food gets passed on and passed on and passed on again?
And oh, what must it have been for the crowd?
Just picture them if you will, this massive gathering of hungry folks: individuals, families, neighbors, indeed whole neighborhoods who took the day and made their way to the shore to encounter Jesus, this healer, to receive the sort of gift they could not have hoped to receive this side of whatever God has in store. With thousands of them there, perhaps it was so that only those who got ‘front row seats’ had any real idea of the wonder that was playing out before them, for them. Unless, of course, those others passed along not only bread and fish but the story of this miracle playing out before their eyes, satisfying their deeper hunger in a way that simple bread and fish never really could.
Oh, there are those who believe the greater miracle would have been if the people who had planned ahead and packed a lunch had opened their picnic baskets, cracked open their coolers, and simply shared what they had brought with those nearby until everyone: family and stranger, friend and neighbor alike had been fed with food to spare. Indeed, there are those who believe that this is what actually happened that day when all those crowds of people showed up to see Jesus. This may be so, although the story is not told in this way. And yet? Perhaps this understanding points to a deeper learning for us now after all.
For it is so that you and I live in precisely the same world that Jesus did.
We are called to give the gifts of God away even as Jesus did, all while carrying in our hearts our own grief and terror in a world which is not so far different from the one where an innocent truth teller could be so gruesomely murdered at the hands of calloused privilege. Again, as Jesus did and does.
- Indeed, even as I write, all across our nation hundreds are lined up to receive tests of which it appears there are still not enough. Or whose results are so delayed as to make them essentially worthless. And hundreds more wait in their cars to receive boxes of food to feed their families who would otherwise go hungry.
- Hospitals — no, not hospitals, but human beings with breaking hearts like yours and mine — are having to make unthinkable decisions about who to treat and who will simply be sent home to die.
- Countless folks who are unemployed due to this pandemic are on the brink of being evicted, unable to make rent and uncertain as to when or if help will come.
- And yes, sad to say too many of our neighbors are unwilling to make the simple sacrifice of putting on a mask: unable, I suppose, to recognize that the act of doing so could well save a life, or countless of lives.
Indeed, it is into this world that along with those first followers of Jesus, you and I are called to pick up the gifts of God and move into the crowd (appropriately distanced and masked of course!) and give away what we have been given to give. We both step out of and into and through our own fear, our own grief, and sometimes, yes, our own doubt or skepticism that the gifts will hold up long enough to reach everyone who is hungry. We do this because of and in spite of everything that has brought us to this point.
So yes, the story goes that Jesus picked up a meager lunch and blessed it and thousands were fed. Perhaps this was exactly how it happened then.
- But wouldn’t it be something now, wouldn’t the miracle be just as great or even greater, if everyone within the sound of Jesus’ voice were to do the same?
- Can’t you imagine that there would be enough of everything for everyone if we all just gave away from what we have, trusting that God will provide, as God always has?
Indeed, while I cannot say that it happened that way so long ago, I am certainly with those who believe that would be all the ‘miracle’ the world would need today. And just like so long ago, with baskets full left over!
- And so I would wonder with you now. Where are and how have you experienced the miracle of this multiplying, this sustenance, this providing so that there is enough with room to spare?
For me, at least, I find that often I am still much like those disciples, believing that there is not nearly enough and tempted to send people on their way to find it on their own. Indeed, for me, in the putting together of these thoughts week by week, I begin in much the same way they did, only for me it is not about actual food, but words on a fluid screen. I wonder if this is the week I will skip it. I wonder if it is time to simply stop, knowing that there are plenty of other places for people like you to turn.
And yet, somehow, week after week, after week, the stories still surface, the wonderings find words, one more time something is received to share. That is my own personal ‘miracle’ encountered at least once every seven days. And as it is given away? So much more returns in the connections made, the ponderings shared the prayers offered in and among this particular community of faith that ‘gathers here.’ Indeed, often far more than ‘twelve baskets full.’ ( And yes, I do imagine that any preacher, any teacher has experienced much the same…)
- And so, what is it for you, I wonder now.
- How has this miracle come alive for you?
- How have you known God’s abundant provision and how have you been called to pass the gifts along?