9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
Genesis 3 2:22-31
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
The gospel text we just heard is commonly known as the feeding of the five thousand. It is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew, 14:13-21; Mark 6:31- 44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:5-15). That fact alone should encourage our pause and reflection. Why this particular story? What is so important about it? What does it reveal about God, about Jesus, about who we are called to be in the world, that each of the gospel writers said, “Hey, now that story is definitely worth remembering.”
Of course, there’s the obvious answer: this is a pretty spectacular miracle. The sheer fact that from a few items, Jesus is able to provide for the masses and have leftovers, is remarkable. Furthermore, this miracle speaks to who God is. God is someone who provides. The feeding of the five thousand is an encapsulation of provision and the poignancy of need. Also, worth noting is the fact that Jesus has compassion on the crowds. He is moved to act on their behalf. He heals their infirmities and then eases their hunger.
Each of these aspects of the miraculous story are significant and could be the topic of their own sermons. But what strikes me most about this gospel and what I want to focus our reflection time on today, is the way this famous miracle came about. What pieces had to come together in order for the miracle to happen? The answer to that question is truly miraculous.
It all begins with the disciples. They come to Jesus, after a long day, and basically tell him, “Look Lord, it’s been full day and a good run, but it’s time to clock out. Tell the crowds to go on their way.” The disciples are tired, they’re ready for a break. And they are a tad bit concerned about the crowd. But don’t get me wrong, their desire to dismiss the people isn’t malicious. Rather their request comes from a practical point of view. If the crowd turns hungry, they may have a problem on their hands. After all, they’re in the middle of nowhere and the disciples don’t have the resources to provide food for the thousands gathered. What if the crowd gets out of hand? What if they turn riotous? Jesus had already spent the whole day with them, healing them, it’s time now to send them on their way. Surely, they’ve gotten what they came for and more.
But that wasn’t how Jesus saw the situation. His response to the disciples is an invitation or perhaps a challenge, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” If you listen deeply to the text, you can hear the disciples’ stammering, flabbergasted astonishment. Stuttering and a little bit outraged. I love the first three words of their response. They say: “We have nothing.”
How identifiable are those three words? We have nothing. In these days, as we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic with no end in sight, I find it so easy to identify with the disciples’ perspective. Many days, I too, feel like, “I’ve got nothing, or what I have feels like next to nothing.” I’ve got next to nothing left for my people, next to nothing left for this ministry, next to nothing left for my family and friends, next to nothing left for this moment. We have nothing.
But that statement wasn’t exactly true for the disciples. They did have something. They didn’t think much of it. They didn’t think it was enough, and in practical, realistic terms, it wasn’t. It wasn’t enough for the twelve of them and it certainly wasn’t enough for the crowd. But they did have some resources. They had five loaves of bread and two fish. And with these few resources, Jesus multiplied the food, fed the multitude, and had plenty left over.
Jesus is able to work with our meager resources. Herein lies the miracle in this story. What we may consider insignificant, is viewed in a whole other light by Jesus. He can take what we consider nothing and work miracles with it. He can turn next to nothing into more than enough. If you feel like you’ve got next to nothing left some days, know that it’s enough for God to work with. God needs only a little of our gifts, only a little of our time, only a little of our contribution, to do incredible things. But here’s the thing… We have to be willing to give what we’ve got over to God, trusting that with our offering, God can do infinitively more than we can ask or imagine.
This week we bid farewell to Congressman John Lewis, the great civil rights leader and the last surviving member of the Big Six. By the time of his death, Congressman Lewis was famous. But that was not how his life began. John Lewis was of humble beginnings, the son of a sharecropper. As a child, John dreamed of being a preacher. He would dress up and preach to the chickens on his family farm. As a teenager his passion morphed to racial justice, voting rights, and equity for black Americans. As a young black person in Troy, Alabama, during segregation, he probably felt that he didn’t have much. But what he had, he offered to God.
In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, John’s friend and fellow civil rights leader, Andrew Young, said, “the thing that made… us rise up and claim our freedom was that God somehow reached down and claimed us as his children.”1 John Lewis knew he was a child of God and as a child of God, John trusted God with his life. He offered his life and his gifts to God to use for the benefit of others and for the glory of God’s kingdom. John knew that God was able to take what we offer, whatever we offer, bless it and multiply it for the benefit of many.
If God did that for John Lewis, God will do it for us. If God did that for the disciples, God will do it for us. So what I want you to consider today, is what is it you can offer to God? What in your life are you willing to give to God? Perhaps it is something you consider insignificant, like the disciples with their five loaves and two fish. Perhaps it is something that at first glance, the world deems insignificant, but that you know is worthwhile, like John Lewis’ passion. Perhaps what you can give in this moment feels like nothing, or next to nothing. Well, friends, that is God’s favorite thing to work with. Time and again throughout scripture, God creates something out of nothing. Never underestimate what the power of God, working through you can do! So be willing to give of yourself. I promise you; God will take what you offer, multiply it and benefit you and others with it. That is what God does. But God needs our assistance. Consider how you might rise to the occasion. Amen.
1 Joy Sharon Yi, “John Lewis, faith and the civil rights movement — Andrew Young reflects,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2020.