17 January 2021
Jesus has withdrawn to a place where he can pray and meditate. His relative,John the Baptist has been brutally executed by Herod and he is in need of renewal -- the refreshment of fellowship with God. But instead of calm, there is a crowd -- instead of the needed refreshment, there is a rush of needy people. The crowd is hungry for help and hope and Jesus reaches out with compassion. When they become hungry for physical food, he reaches out with the abundance of God.
The issue of food and hunger is a powerful symbol in scripture. It takes us deep into the human spirit. In Mary's Song, God is praised as the One who, "...has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty... [Lk. 1:53
Lets go around the lake with the crowds.
Its late, darkness is drawing in and the crowd is hungry.
The nearest supplies are in local villages – a distance away. The disciples suggest very sensibly that Jesus to send the people there to buy supplies.
Jesus says, "The don’t have to go away. You give them something to eat!"
Us? – “all we’ve got nothing but five loaves and two fish”
Five thousand plus women and children, who apparently didn’t count.
Bring them here to me.
Jesus organised the crowd sit down – so food can be shared out. They took their slender resources and brought them to Jesus and Jesus blessed them and broke the loaves and handied them to the disciples and they gave them to the crowd .
All ate and they had more than enough for everyone. So much that there was a rubbish collection of 12 baskets left over.
Jesus showed compassion for these people.
This wasn’t an exercise in proving who he is although Matthews gospel is showing this is the one who comes and gives of himself to us food which satisfies.
All the signs of God are here in the sharing of a meal, the fact that there is plenty, more than enough when slender resources are brought to Jesus to be blessed and shared.
But it is the task of the disciples to feed the people. You give them something to eat. You work out the compassion that you have for these people yourselves. You find the resources that are already here, what is already provided.
It does not matter how much we have! What matters most of all is what God can do with what we have.
I’m going to push the boundaries of the text a bit now. The text tells us that there is a group which didn’t count in that culture. Which was overlooked. How many women and children I wonder were present? Not counted? It could have been because the counters were thinking of this being a military cuop about to be done and the men gathering but maybe they just didn't see the women and children as being important enough to count.
We can in our cultural blindness, and our assumptions often only dimly recognised , not see people who can themselves be a resource. It can be social circles, ethnic groupings, age groups, gender which blinds people to the resource which is there, waiting to be used. I have been at many church gatherings [not of course in this parish, we wouldn't do this would we?] where someone has been asking for help with a specific task and totally ignored people who had much to offer because they didn’t see them.
Rosemary Radford Reuther, who is a feminist theologian, suggests that the reason there was so much food was that all the women, as women are wont to do, brought picnic baskets, food enough for themselves, their children and one or two neighbors. So of course there was more than enough for all.
As we look at the poverty that is endemic in a world which has plenty so often the women and men who are considered not to be important in the eyes of donor nations have been uncounted.
There is an unseen miracle that women and sometimes the men – if they are not already drafted into labour forces away from their villages and homes are always performing, feeding those who would otherwise starve because they are left out of the official ways of counting.
They get no credit because their work in providing this food is also not counted. The gross national product, by which economists measure the output of a nation's productive work, counts only the products of paid labour.
In Nicaragua, popular kitchens run by women for the poorest women and children are called ollas de soya, or "pots of soya." Some countries of the European Economic Community (in contrast to the United States that is only interested in loans to the wealthy) contribute soya flour to these kitchens of the poor. The women then manage to get together vegetables and fruits from their own gardens to mix with the soya flour to make a variety of nourishing drinks and main dishes to feed the poorest women and children. They can only feed those who are on the brink of starvation, the poorest women who are pregnant or lactating and the children who are dangerously underweight. Once the children are back to more normal weight (undernourished but not starving) and the women are not pregnant or lactating anymore, they are not fed in these kitchens, in order for the limited supply to be reserved for those most in need.
You feed them – look at who I provide and what I provide and bring them to me for blessing.
If there was ever a time when people felt overwhelmed, it was watching the thousands upon countless thousands who fled Kosovo into neighbouring countries. The need was immense. The TV carried a story about a Macedonian baker and his family. This man was personally responsible for taking in and caring for over 700 people. His small bakery ran 24 hours a day to provide bread for the hungry. Refugees helped with the cooking and distribution. A camera crew visited the home of the baker's brother. There was an average sized home with a courtyard. 100 refugees -- men, women and children -- had found refuge in this one home!
The baker, smiling, told the interviewer that he was now running out of flour and supplies and that soon there would be no more bread for any of them. Without consideration of the cost to himself and his family, this man was willing to give everything he had to give hope and help to all he possibly could.
This story tells us that even in the deserted places, when we are grieving and exhausted, God can take our "not enough" and turn it into "more than enough." Amazing things can happen when we see with eyes of compassion and make ourselves available to God as agents of compassion.
Somewhere in your experience this week, you and I will see a person or situation where compassion is needed. If you are open to it, you will know in your spirit that God needs an agent of compassion. And when you begin to wonder what can be done for this person – remember the words of Jesus
"They need not go away - You give them something to eat!"
"But I do not have the energy, resources, time!"
"What do you have?" asks Jesus, "Bring it to me. Bring me your compassion, your insight, the knowledge you have. I will bless what you bring and increase it so many are satisfied"
References from many places and the PCRL list
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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