Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
August 6, 2017
“When We Say There’s Not Enough”
Matthew 14: 13-21 – The Message (alt.)
When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—because someone saw him and the word got around. Soon crowds of people from nearby villages came walking toward him. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with compassion and healed their sick.
15 Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in this isolated place and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get something to eat.”
16 But Jesus said, “There is no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said.
18-21 Jesus said, “Bring them to me.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the crowd. They all ate their fill. They gathered up twelve basketfuls of leftovers. About five thousand men were fed, in addition to women and children also.”
Three mice died and went to heaven. A few days after they arrived, St. Peter stopped by to see how they were doing. “How do you like heaven?” he asked. “It’s beautiful,” they said, “but it’s so big, it’s hard to get around on our little legs.” St. Peter thought about it and decided to give all the mice in heaven roller skates so they could get around easier.
A few days later a cat who had exhausted all nine lives arrived. As was his custom, St. Peter checked on him to see how he was doing. “Do you like heaven?” “Oh yes. I especially love the meals on wheels.”
Everybody knows the story of the feeding of the 5,000. It’s in all four gospels – in fact, it’s the only miracle story recorded in all four gospels, which should make it clear how important it is in the Christian faith. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have some minor differences in details. In John, it was a little boy who came forward with five loaves and two fish. But they all reported that everyone ate until they were satisfied, until everyone had their fill. Out of so little, everyone ate. When all anyone could see was “There’s not enough,” in the end, there was so much abundance that it had be gathered up by the basketful.
One notable difference is that only Matthew mentioned women and children were fed also. Every gospel reported 5,000 men had eaten. Only Matthew added, 5,000 men, in addition to women and children.
Sister Simone, of the Nuns on a Bus fame, said the other three gospels were probably right to leave the women out. Women didn’t see it as a miracle; every woman, or man, who is expected to put three meals on the table every day. Women regularly perform a miracle every time there isn’t enough money to buy groceries – yet everyone still eats, although minus those times when everyone eats except the one who made it so everyone else can have their fill. What miracle? There was no miracle. Women do it all the time.
Besides Sister Simone though, another prophetic woman, Barbara Lundblad, argued that it was a miracle – it was a miracle that everyone ate without going through a means test first. A Texas congressman wrote a food stamps bill that quoted scripture.
No, this congressman quoted an obscure 2nd Thessalonians 3:10: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” That was his argument, even though:
Some may wish to argue whether this was a miracle or just an example of people sharing what they already had. I’ve done that before.
But engaging in such debate misses the larger point – that this is what God is like. When we say there’s not enough, God says, “Yes there is.” Miracles are signs that point to God, that describe the nature of God, such as,
The miracles of Jesus are not for us to marvel at his supernatural powers but for us to marvel at the mystery of God. And inspire us. Inspired, not just by the increase in food, but by the willingness of Jesus to keep going even when he had nothing left to give. This story is not just about how there was enough food, but how he had enough compassion to give even when his heart, mind, body, soul and strength were empty.
It's so important to remember the context of these stories. Especially the context of stories that are so familiar we think, “Oh, I’ve heard that one already.”
The passage began as Patty read “When he got the news, Jesus slipped away by boat to an out of the way place by himself.”
That should have been our first clue to go back and see what “the news” was that Jesus had just gotten. But instead we can get so enthralled with the idea of feeding 5,000 men, not to mention women and children too, that we can get entangled with questions and debate about whether it was a miracle or not…
We can get so invested in that part of the story that we often miss the whole paragraph about how Jesus attempted to slip away but someone saw him and word spread and soon a flood of people from nearby villages came surging toward him.
Jesus was trying to do the right thing – when you are spiritually exhausted, stop to rest, take time to renew. Yet just as he was trying to get away, 5,000 men, not to mention women and children too, came pressing up on him. He didn’t even get a chance to process “the news.” When Jesus saw thousands coming toward him, however, he was overcome with compassion.
But wait. Again, context. What, in fact, had been “the news” that caused Jesus to say “I need to be by myself for a while?” It was the death of John the Baptist, who in some traditions was his cousin. However, it wasn’t just his death that was shocking but the method.
In the story that leads into today’s text, Herod Antipas was having a grand birthday party. In a kind of drunken state, he was feeling particularly generous so he said to his step-daughter, name anything you want and it will be yours. He figured she would ask for a jeweled necklace, a dowry, a house…
Well, she didn’t know what to ask for so she asked her mother for advice. Her mother said, tell him to give you the head of John the Baptizer on a platter. Why? The girl’s mother held a grudge against John because he had called Herod’s and her relationship “adultery.” Furious, Herod arrested John but since he had so many followers, he didn’t want to kill him so as not to stir up trouble for himself. But now Herod’s hands were tied. He had made the promise to give the girl anything she wanted in front of a whole crowd, so he couldn’t risk losing face. He ordered what the girl requested.
Imagine being at that party when John made an appearance, in the form of his head on a platter. Oh, “that news!” reached Jesus. Who then decided to look for a boat so he could go off and be by himself.
You know, we often say that Jesus was just as human as the rest of us. But we don’t always act as though we believe he was just as human as the rest of us. We’ll say things like, he was much more patient than I ever could be. He was much more forgiving than I ever could be. He was much more understanding and loving and self-giving than I could ever be. Isn’t that maybe just our way of letting ourselves off the hook? He was human, sure… but somehow better. Therefore, I can’t be as good as him…
But whatever he might have been, I can’t help but imagine that in that moment he seriously, very humanly, panicked. If you heard that news, wouldn’t you want to run as far as you could in the opposite direction. To hide out. Maybe become Amish for a while. And I can’t help but think that when Jesus saw all those people coming toward him, just as he was trying to get away, he looked at them and thought, NO! Leave me alone! My cousin was just murdered! Don’t you get it? Give me a break! But no, the gospel says, he looked upon them and had compassion.
Now, if Jesus was just as human as me, I know I would have been resentful. Annoyed. Exasperated. Irritated. And that’s just one way how I know that Jesus is more than human, although exactly what, I don’t know.
Yet, that’s also why he’s the one I follow because I want to be more than my first instinct. I want to be more patient than annoyed. I want to be more forgiving than irritated. Don’t you? Especially in today’s divided and polarized world, I want more than anything to be more understanding and loving and self-giving than I am. And that would be, I suggest to you, the real miracle of this whole story.
The real miracle is not that 5,000 men were fed, not to mention women and children too, but that Jesus didn’t turn away from them. He had compassion. He didn’t give an excuse. I’m too tired. I’ve got compassion fatigue. That’s not to say those aren’t absolutely real and unquestionably essential to our health and wellbeing. I mean, seriously, my last sermon was about the need for activists to rest and renew their spirits. We even have these Rise Up: Spirituality for Resistance devotionals to keep our activist spirits going. And Jesus did in fact go off by himself on other occasions to fast and to pray – to reflect and refuel and reconnect. This is not an anti- “take some contemplative time away” message.
Yet, here is the growing edge, the other point I want to make: Jesus didn’t act as though this depended on himself alone. Jesus didn’t personally deliver all that bread and fish. And therefore, I have to ask: In those moments when we are stretched thinnest, most bereft of energy and passion, what is the reason? Is it because I figure I have to do it myself because others will let me down? Is it because we don’t allow other people to be partners in our work? Is it because we trust more in our own abilities than we do in the sure provision of our God? And then what happens?
When are you stretched to your max? Most ready to just walk away from everything?
Because, remember, this story teaches us that God is a God who feeds. God is like a woman who can look into the empty cupboard of our soul and still prepare a feast out me.
Because, remember, this story teaches us that God is a God of compassion. God doesn’t look at us and say, “Where’s the proof you looked for work this week? Can you speak English? Do you have a degree in computer programming? Do we need you?” Rather, God is a God who, when we say there’s not enough, She says, “Yes there is.”
So give and receive compassion and you will receive and give and give and get back again. And it is out of that that we can expect a miracle. Although, probably not mice on roller skates.
When love and forgiveness and understanding and patience and compassion are nearly empty because we’ve been trying to do it all alone… When you say there’s not enough, what does God say? Yes, there is.
When you say there’s not enough, what does God say? Yes, there is.
When you say there’s not enough, what does God say? Yes, there is.
That’s the kind of spirituality we need to keep fighting the resistance against the cruelty of people in leadership today. To never stop calling out white supremacy, Islamophobia, and just plain mean-spiritedness against people who are poor.
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world