Matthew 14:13-21, James 2:14-18
This story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is one of the most famous of all the miracles that Jesus performed during his ministry. It is action packed narrative that takes place in the midst of other exciting stories. At the beginning of our scripture reading today, Jesus has tried to withdraw to a solitary place because he is mourning the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. John had recently been jailed by Herod because John was not shy in telling Herod that he was behaving badly. There’s a story of sex and intrigue there but let’s save that for another Sunday.
Anyway, John was arrested and, upon the whim of some privileged, arrogant young slip of a thing, Herod agreed to behead John. Naturally Jesus was distraught when he was told the news and so he retreated from the crowds so that he could grieve the death of his dear cousin and could pray to God. But the people would not let him be. He ends up preaching and healing to the crowd that has gathered. When the day’s end arrives, it occurs to everyone that they are too far from town and they ask, ‘what will we eat?’ Feed them, Jesus tells them. We have only five loaves and two fish. Bring what you have he tells them. He gives thanks to God and breaks up the loaves. And in his thanksgiving, the food multiplied. Or as one of the youth said in Zambia in regard to this miracle story—mathematics happened. The food multiplied so much so that there were twelve baskets of leftovers when everyone’s hunger was satisfied.
There are people of faith who, at this point and with any miracle story of the Gospel, know the story to be absolute truth and think no further. There was a small, tiny amount of food, Jesus asked for God’s blessing and there was a great deal of food. More than could be eaten by the people gathered. And then, there are those people of faith who want to examine the miracle—maybe it wasn’t so much a miraculous and magical multiplying of food so much as it was people being generous. People digging down to the bottom of their bags and pulling out everything they had. And when I say ‘people’ let’s face it, it was the women. It would have been the women who thought to themselves, hmmm…we’re going out to see if we can find this Jesus fellow and hear what he has to say, I’d better bring food cause who knows where we’ll end up. After all, what mom doesn’t have a granola bar, or fish crackers or cut up grapes in the diaper bag?
But there is another way to receive this Gospel miracle. We don’t need to examine it too closely, we don’t need to know the logistics of it. We don’t need to have unquestioning faith in its veracity. Because, this story is not about facts. This story is about what is truth and what that truth means. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is that in a world where food was grown on land that was not owned by the farmer, where food was used to pay taxes, where generosity of government was limited to Romans, in a land where being a Jew was tantamount to being a second-class citizen with very little extra of anything in their lives, the Hebrew people were accustomed to living in scarcity. They were used to living in uncertainty and fear. The next meal was not guaranteed. Safety and livelihoods were not taken for granted. And yet, there is this massive group of people, who are without substance. Without food. Without their daily bread. And they are fed. They are fed so much so that there are leftovers. The food was abundant. What this story is telling anyone who has the ears to hear, what truth of this story is that there is enough for each one of us. There is enough love. The love that Jesus lived out, God’s love made manifest in the world, is so very abundant that there will be love left over. God’s love is not pumpkin pie. Because you and you and you each have piece of it, doesn’t mean I receive any less. This is the theology of abundance—there is no need to hoard or hide away your love and keep your generosity tied up tightly and as small as the Grinch’s heart for God’s love is so great that there will always be love leftover for the next person in line.
On its website, the Food Bank states that for every dollar donated, five dollars of food is distributed. This type of mathematics we understand. They take the dollar donations and buy in bulk what you and me bought at the grocery store likely at a much higher cost. The money is multiplied but, let’s face it, it’s not as much fun. We humans are experiential learners. Children, in particular, learn by being hands on with activities. We can lecture about the value of a donated dollar all we want, but there is something so much more powerful when the giving is tangible. We have seen this played out here in Alberta with fires displacing thousands of people—quilts, food, household items are given.
It does not take a full-blown tragedy in order for people to find themselves struggling, to find themselves hurting, to be feeling a bit broken, to find themselves hungry in mind, body and spirit. We have heard in recent days, ‘you’re in my thoughts and prayers’ but James reminds us that if there are others who are without, without food, without peace, without love, we must act. In the knowing that we are partners with God in God’s great Creation and in hearing the truth that God’s love is abundant, the Book of James reminds us that it through our works that best we show our faith. I encourage you to give money—give whatever percentage of your income that you are able—but I also encourage you to take these words of James to heart and find some good works to become involved with. Jesus did not teach or lead from the comfortable places in his life. He led from alongside the very people who were the have-nots, he taught amongst the marginalized, he listened for the voices of those who spent their lives unheard, he loved those society taught were unlovable. The people of his time and we, his followers today, know Jesus not just by the love he spoke but by the love he displayed.
If you are looking for a way to get involved, the congregation of SVUC has many different opportunities for your to share your time, energy and money:
IFTC - Inn From the Cold - an organization that serves children and their families. Not adults and their children but CHILDREN and their families. Each month a small crew heads downtown to serve supper and make up the lunches that will be needed the next day.
Sharp Foundation - a group of hospices for people living with HIV. The clients of the hospices are those people who have been homeless or otherwise disadvantaged in life and need a place to call home as they manage their medical needs. No one is ever turned away. All are lovingly cared for.
Drop-In Centre - SVUC serves breakfast once month before church and every Sunday we celebrate communion we make 450 sandwiches that are delivered to the Centre.
Next Sunday, Jordan Hamilton, from the DI will be speaking during the worship service. If you own a Kindness, Empathy, Love or Respect shirt from the DI, please wear your shirt on Sunday. If you do not have a shirt, Jordan will have shirts available for $25. There's a new shirt - Dignity.