The Rev. Denise Vaughn
The Assurance of Plenty
As far as I am concerned, eating is one of the many pleasures of life with my true love being bread. I may have told you this story but when I was 9 & 10 years old, we were stationed in Paris, and would wake up each morning and go down to the corner bakery and buy several baguettes right out of the oven, warm and crispy. On occasion, my mom would allow us to put a Hershey bar in the middle of our piece of warm baguette and oh my, what a special treat. Later when I had my own family, I purchased a bread machine and would enjoy the wonderful smell of fresh baking bread and of course, it would never last long. During the week, I would also make several loafs to take to church on Sunday. When someone new walked in the door, they would get a loaf of fresh bread as a welcome gift. Here we give a special coffee mug with a picture of our beautiful stained glass window. Welcoming newcomers with gifts is a special ministry and eating…well it is rarely listed as a spiritual practice, but it should be.
It seems to me that Jesus loved to eat. His parables are often about wheat, or fruit trees, or banquets, or vineyards. They even labeled him a glutton and drunkard. His enemies noticed and asked his disciples why he ate with tax collectors and sinners. The disciples of John the Baptist noticed enough to question him about why he did not fast, but Jesus knew that mealtime is often when ministry would happen, and this is exactly what did happen when Jesus saw the great crowd that had followed him that day. We are told “he had compassion for them and cured their sick” and he invited the multitudes to eat. In the feeding of the five thousand and more, the disciples and the people experienced the power of God’s love, they experienced the good news that under God’s rule there is enough for everyone; they discovered what it means to follow Christ and to be assured of God’s power for good in our world.
This story has been an inspiration to Christians for centuries and it is the only miracle that all four gospel writers include in their gospel. It was treasured by the early church because it taught Christians the very heart of the gospel message and was a source of hope and encouragement for those who were seeking to be faithful against great odds. It takes place immediately after Jesus hears that his good friend and mentor John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod as a party favor for his daughter. He and the disciples understandably need sometime alone away from the crowds, to grieve and pray. Yet, the crowds also hear of John’s death and they are frightened and seeking Jesus for both comfort and guidance. So they follow him and he sees their grief and fear.
He understands their longing for hope and a word of encouragement. He knows how they are feeling. He is grieving for the death of his cousin, so he spends the entire day with them healing the sick and giving comfort through his words and actions. When night begins to fall he turns to his disciples and he says, “You give them something to eat.” I can just image the disciples looking at one another thinking what, is he talking about us? Jesus is referring to a crowd of thousands and the disciples recognize that they have been asked to do the impossible, with next to nothing. It seems overwhelming and the responsibility seems too great. Yet, isn’t this situation similar to what the church faces every day?
We would have to be blind to not see the hunger all around us. People hunger for a deeper connection with God and each other, we hunger for purpose and meaning, for hope and many for their next meal. We, the church, have been called to feed the hungry people with fewer and fewer resources, fewer and fewer loaves and fish, than ever before. Like the disciples that day, we are not equipped to do what we have been given to do. There is never enough, yet what might be helpful for us to remember is that Jesus only asks the disciples to bring the little they have, to share. This miracle is not the church’s miracle it is God’s, for it is God who provided for the multitudes, we are called to bring what we have, share it and God provides.
No wonder we need to hear this story again and again because it assures us of God’s love and that God cares about our most basic needs. It shows us what it means to be a disciple and that we are given an awesome responsibility entrusted to us by God, to be the Body of Christ doing God’s work in our world. We know by Jesus’ example that we are to express our faith in acts of love, justice and compassion toward our neighbor. And Matthew clearly tells us that we will meet Jesus in reaching out to “the least of our brothers and sisters,” to the hungry, thirsty and imprisoned and that God does give us the power we need to work for good in the world, when we need it. When the disciples worked together and followed Jesus they had more than enough.
The church all through the years has discovered the power of the Holy Spirit to do great things when we have joined together in unity and faithfulness to work for God’s purposes in our world. We have come to know that God is with us and will work through us to faithfully carry out our call as baptized followers of Christ. This promise is not one that says we will never encounter failure, struggles or pain. It is a promise that says look to me, follow me, and be assured that when you step out in faith to help one another I will be with you. We need this assurance because we forget the other times that God has made a way when there seemed to be no way; from the parting of the Red Sea to stilling storms, manna and miracles abounding then and today.
So Jesus says to his disciples bring the loaves and fishes-here to me. We can almost hear the disciple’s sigh of relief and possibly their embarrassment for not turning to him sooner. We see lack or insufficiency, and Jesus says, just bring me the bits and pieces and I will bless them and make them more. Jesus gave the blessed and broken loaves to his disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds. To everyone who would be his disciple, in whatever time or place or situation, he says: “Through you, let me be present to the people, let me feed the deepest hungers.” Just as Jesus feeds our deepest hunger each week in the bread that is blessed, broken and given so that there is more than enough for our needs and the needs of others.
Our faith tells us the way to the cure for our fears and feelings of insufficiency, we take the meager bits and pieces of what we have and invite Jesus to bless them and make them more. It is that simple. Over and over in the scriptures we hear “My grace is sufficient, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Just five loves of delicious bread but when offered to God in thanksgiving they became part of an unlimited treasure of blessing enough to feed the people with plenty left over. We just need to remember to offer up what we have been given in gratitude to the One who desires to heal, redeem, restore, reconcile and feed us. Our role is to offer up our part, our bread and seek with all that we are and have to work with God and then, expect to be amazed.