Loaves Abound! A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes Matthew 14:13-21 August 6, 2017 Main Idea: Jesus empowers our compassion.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and today our Scripture text is a story about Jesus feeding us. It is a story about moving from grief and despair to fulfillment and joy. It is a story about who Jesus is and about who we are called to be. It is a story about the power of compassion. Jesus empowers our compassion and calls us to feed the needy.
The gospel of Matthew prefaces this miraculous banquet with a party of a different sort. Just before today’s text, Matthew tells us that Herod Antipas had a birthday party which I am sure was a lavish affair; all the best food, all the best people. At the party, Herod’s niece and step-daughter Herodias danced for Herod and his guests’ entertainment. Herod was so enthused that he offered her an extravagant gift; “Whatever she might ask.” (14:7b). What she asked for was outrageous; the head of John the Baptist. Herod’s elaborate party for the elite of society culminated in the death of John the Baptist who had brought hope and challenge to so many. Herod’s hoopla and spectacle brought about death and scandal.
When Jesus hears of John’s death he grieves. He goes away in a boat to be by himself. When the people hear about John’s death, they follow Jesus on foot. They are saddened, afraid, and discouraged. They are sick in body and mind and they wait for Jesus to speak with them. Jesus, in the boat, gathers himself and returns to shore where he sees the people gathered together. He has compassion for them and he heals them of all their infirmities; body, mind, and spirit. There were a lot of people gathered, more than 5000, and so this healing must have taken a long time because eventually, the disciples realize that evening has come. The disciples see a problem. “What are we supposed to do with all of these people?” they ask. “What are they going to eat? We can’t be responsible for all of them! Perhaps they can go away and take care of themselves.” This is wishful thinking because most likely, these folks have no money with which to buy food and even if they did, the nearby villages did not have big supermarkets in which to shop. These little villages would be overwhelmed by the number of people in need.
Jesus seems surprised by the disciples’ suggestion to send the people away. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Now the disciples are surprised. “We have nothing here but 5 loaves and 2 fish.” We can’t feed all these people! We have nothing to give them!” Jesus rolls his eyes. “Bring them here to me.”
Now notice what Jesus does. He has everybody sit down. He takes the bread and “looking up to heaven” in thanksgiving, he blesses it and breaks it and gives it to his disciples, using the same language and movements of the Last Supper. Notice also that he does not feed the 5000+. He feeds the disciples and then he empowers the disciples to feed the rest!
The disciples move out into the crowd “and all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
Amazing! What started as a desperate, grieving, and suffering crowd became a joyful and satisfied community.
This story is about the power of compassion. Over the last few years we have pondered and discussed compassion in a variety of ways. We read Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong and The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Both books lift up the centrality of compassion to Christianity and to all of the world religions. The word “compassion” does not mean pity. It means “to endure [something] with another person, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to feel her pain as though it were our own, and to enter generously into his point of view.” (Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, p. 9). The Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, is a perfect definition of compassion. Jesus has compassion for the people because he feels what they feel. He is grieving as they are grieving. He chooses to end their suffering because he knows what it is to suffer. Jesus’ compassion moves him from his own grief to lightening the grief of others.
This story is about who Jesus is and about who we are called to be. Jesus has compassion for the crowds and throughout his ministry, he drew people to him. But the disciples are not so sure about all these folk and all these needs. The disciples are overwhelmed and their first response is to send the crowds away. They say to Jesus “We have nothing but 5 loaves and 2 fish.” “For disciples who think they have “nothing”, the possibilities are necessarily small.” Dock Hollingsworth FOTW Year A Vol 3 p 313). The disciples focus on what is lacking rather than what is possible. But Jesus challenges this orientation toward scarcity. He says, “Give what you have and then we will see what happens.” The disciples give Jesus the bread and fish. After giving thanks and blessing it, he feeds the disciples, but they then go out and feed the rest. Their humble offering, our humble offering, is transformed and multiplied. Jesus calls us as his disciples to have faith that what we offer the world can make a difference. We may not think we can feed the world but we can try! We can use our resources toward building God’s kingdom of peace and justice and abundance. Being overwhelmed by need is no reason to give up or shut down. In fact, Christ blesses our ministries, expanding and multiplying the blessings both for us and for those we help. When the disciples turn away from their own concerns and toward the needs and concerns of others, they find that they are all fed and fulfilled.
This story is about moving from grief and despair to fulfillment and joy. At the beginning of the story we are among suffering strangers jostling to get something, anything, for themselves but by the end we are sitting with new friends, stuffed after a great meal. Jesus transformed the crowd through his compassion. He listens. He heals. He empowers. Our world is much like that of Jesus’ day. There is so much suffering and desperation. Some of us are grieving and overwhelmed by our own need to say nothing of the needs of others. We sure would like it if Jesus would swoop down among us and take care of our every need and all of the needs of the world. That would be great for today but what about tomorrow? Wouldn’t Jesus need to regularly swoop down to save us from our troubles? Instead, Jesus empowers us to be compassionate and to care for others. Jesus lightened our grief by turning us toward others, to recognize other disciples and people of faith working alongside us. Jesus emboldens us to make strangers into friends through compassionate service together.
As we approach the Communion Table, let us recognize the power and the joy with which Jesus feeds us. May we be filled with compassion, stuffed with it, so that we might share it with the world. Our hymn of preparation is a bouncy, joyful song. Let us sing out with love and gratitude.