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  • Lex McDonald

No Holding Back

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, 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 for 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.

No Holding Back

So I can never read this story without thinking about the obvious elements – one, it is about food. You can read this as a miracle story, and it is that. You can also read about the fact that maybe Jesus was taking advantage of the teachable moment, as they call it, and performing a miracle that would teach people about the abundance of God. But along with that, there is the idea that, like when he performed his first miracle and turned water into wine, it was because his mother said “we have a problem.”

The problem is that you have a lot of hungry people. So before this event is about anything else, it is about a meal. So in what must have been the original lunch served after church, it is about the food. And before we try to figure out the numbers, and how the miracle happened, and how five loaves and two fish turned into food for thousands, there is the basic aspect of the food, and the hungry people.

There is the image of Jesus and his disciples having this brief discussion about what to do with all these people, now that it was getting late and they were a ways out from town. Jesus makes it pretty clear, when the disciples say “send them home” he responds: No. “You give them something to eat.”

That was what he was always pushing towards. So often, Jesus demonstrated the idea that in addition to taking care of someone’s spiritual needs, you have to take care of their physical needs. He ministered to the whole person, and as His followers we are called to the same.

It’s pretty basic, really. If you want to talk to somebody about God, they are not likely to hear you if they are hungry. You can’t really worry about someone’s soul if their body is lacking basic nutrition, and if they have that gnawing hunger in the pit of their stomach. Or if they are worried about where their next meal is coming from, they are not likely to be very impressed by your God-talk or your big fancy church.

So, when we read accounts like we read today, it serves as a call to ministry for us. We are the ones to whom Jesus is saying: “You give them something to eat.” We are the ones who live in a world where so many of us have so much more than we need, and eat more than we should almost daily, and so many others in the world are literally starving.

I was reminded of this need that is out there a few weeks ago when we had our curbside communion and collected food. On Monday I went to Harvest Hope to take all the food we collected, not knowing that Monday is apparently distribution day, and when I went there I couldn’t get near the place. The cars were backed up all the way out on to Shop Road. I had to come back on Tuesday.

It is our calling – not just to provide food for those in need out of compassion, but because that is what Jesus calls us to do. “You give them something to eat.”

Which reminds me of another element of this miracle. There is a theory about this event that goes something like this: remember the one person who offered up their loaves and fish? In one of the other versions it is a boy, I think. Anyway, there is the theory that maybe Jesus didn’t actually create any food, that the one person offered his or her food, and someone else was moved to do the same, and so on, until suddenly all the food that some had was available to all.

Maybe. Maybe the miracle that day was simply that everyone who had more than enough gave of their excess to those who had none. Maybe they all discovered that day that it wasn’t a resource issue, it was a distribution issue. Maybe the ones that had more than enough learned how to let go of their excess and trust that come tomorrow they would have enough then also.

So when I hear about this miracle today, it reminds me that, now, with all of the food issues that we have in our world, and in our community, and with the pandemic, that now is not the time for holding back. Now is not the time for those of us who have plenty to ignore those who do not have enough.

It comes back to the way we approach what we have, and how we use it.

You have seen those stories about people who go around and go into restaurants and leave huge tips for the servers. They usually film the whole thing and put it on social media and it creates a nice uplifting story. I saw one the other day where the server was in Virginia Beach and her name was Aubrey.

Stranger, Dan Pew, came in and had his meal and he tipped her $650. The interesting thing is that Aubrey, the server, while moved by the generosity of this stranger, immediately said she would split the tip with her coworkers. “That is what we do around here” she said. What I receive, she said, goes to everyone. No windfall for her but some for all.

It is kind of based on how you feel about yourself and your possessions. It is also a faith perspective that says that where there is need, and where I have enough, I can give to that need and trust that God will provide for me tomorrow.

As we have gone through this pandemic time, we have tried to not only hold things together but to continue to be the church. God reminds us that although we cannot all be together in the same place for Sunday worship, we are called to continue to be the church. Not by having a nice Sunday meal together after a nice Sunday service, but by something different. We continue to be the church by how we answer the words of Christ: You give them something to eat.

May we remember that now is not the time for holding back. And now is the time for us to be the church in the world. Thanks be to God, Amen.

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