Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
Feeding the 5,000. If you grew up in the church, you may have a memory of a felt board or a coloring page or a picture book telling this story. Even if you are newer to hearing the stories of Christ, you likely have heard this story - it is one that appears in all of the Gospels, the books of the Bible that specifically tell of Jesus’ life.
5,000 people - well, 5,000 men - plus, women and children. So, possibly double that.
5 bread loaves and 2 fish. Normal size, I assume.
This story can be told with a focus on the miraculous - magical - multiplying of literal bread and fish. It can be told with a focus on believing in the impossible when it comes to God’s powers - that even when we doubt that we have enough, if God is willing, then all will be provided!
And...for me, the heart of this story doesn’t depend on a physical miracle that multiplies bread and fish. The heart of this story points depends on us seeing, yet again, Jesus’ radical hospitality and the importance of us following that example.
The heart of this story ensures that we continue to take action. Barbara Brown Taylor in “The Seeds of Heaven” writes that “Miracles let us off the hook. They appeal to the part of us that is all too happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, do it all.” So, if we focus only on the miracle, we may unintentionally let ourselves off the hook for following Jesus’ example of hospitality.
And maybe hospitality is on my mind this week a bit more than usual because last week we had our last session in the LGBTQ & Scripture series. Benita did a fantastic job leading us through discussions on various Scriptures often used to support anti-affirming theology. I admit that, decades ago, some of those Scriptures (mainly Hebrew Scriptures) were presented to me and I read them as stories condemning same sex relations. Yet, reading them in a new light, with new discussions, and new information, a major focus in them appears to be God getting really annoyed with people being inhospitable to strangers.
One story says that two angels, two messengers, were welcomed into a man’s home, Lot. People of the town, Sodom, (actually, all the people of the town) didn’t like that these “foreigners” were staying with him and demanded that they be brought out so that they could have sex with them - forcibly, as a punishment, as an abuse. More interactions took place….then, the angels warned Lot to flee the city before God destroyed it, and he did.
The towns Sodom & Gomorrah were extremely inhospitable. They didn’t welcome the stranger. They tried to forcibly exert power through rape. That is why they suffered the destruction that they did.
And there are more stories similar to this in the Old Testament.
Fast forward through the Bible to today’s story. The disciples tried sending away a crowd of people who were hungry - not only physically hungry but spiritually hungry. They suggested to Jesus that the crowds go home and to nearby villages to find food - the disciples suggested that they send the people away, which is kind of the opposite of being hospitable.
Jesus says “nope, you do it. You feed them. You be hospitable.”
The disciples gather what they have and then, coupled with Jesus’ blessing (which is very reminiscent of the communion story), the food that they need is provided. All are served. All are welcomed. All are fed.
I feel like most of us know someone who could “feed an army” at a moment’s notice. For me, it’s Pat Corriher. She lives in the beautiful country of western NC. She’s surrounded by farmland and chickens and cows, and the majority of her neighbors share her last name. It’s a family reunion driving down the road. There is never not room at her table. If the table is full, she gets out another table. There is always more than enough food, if you have more room in your stomach.
It’s a picture of hospitality. Sharing a meal, sharing life.
So, what keeps us from being hospitable?
Right now, we feel hindered because of circumstances - it’s harder but not impossible to be hospitable. We can still help donate or serve at food banks, we can give to the Connect with A Wish school drive, we can connect with loved ones. So, we can’t let circumstances be our excuse. We simply need to think more creatively.
Maybe we don’t act hospitably because of the “other.” The angels in the story of Sodom were seen as “foreigners” and discriminated against. Where do we have biases - judgments - towards others simply because we don’t know them? Where are we generalizing a whole group of people, based solely on experience with one person or off of what another person has said? Maybe the “other” comes with a lot of uncertainty - unfamiliarity - and we use that to fuel our fears. Jesus shows us today that’s not the answer.
Maybe we don’t act hospitably because of ourselves.
Trust that what you have to offer is good and enough. Every person has talents or wisdom or a loaf of bread to offer.
I would even challenge it collectively to the church, as well, not just individually. Thomas Long noted that “Most folks in churches (pastors and lay members alike) would say that their church "needs" more money, more members, more "help." Our perception is one of scarcity, even when we truly desire to act compassionately…” (Sermon Seeds, ucc.org)
Sometimes we have a genuine compassion to help, yet cut ourselves short, claiming we don’t have what is needed. Again, we can’t use it as an excuse - we simply need to think more creatively.
In last winter’s Just Faith series, we talked a lot about this mindset of scarcity - thinking we don’t have enough time, money, energy, food, etc. Friends, when we share, when we prioritize with compassion, when we follow Jesus’ example of using 5 loaves and 2 fish, we have enough.
I hope that when we find ourselves asking God to send the people away or to do the miracle of feeding the 5,000, that we turn to see what we have to offer first. What is already in our basket? Using the talents, the resources, the gifts that we already have - coupled with the power of God - is the best shot we have at bringing God’s kingdom to this earth.