Wednesday, August 06, 2014

You Give to Them

You Give to Them
Matthew 14:13-21[1]
I’m afraid that the prevalence of visual media in our world hasn’t always had a positive effect on us. It is truly amazing to be able to see developing news stories from around the world as they are happening. The technology surrounding movie making has moved into warp speed with computer-aided graphics. Many of us take High Definition TV for granted these days. But I’m afraid that all that “watching” has made us more of a nation of “spectators” than ever before. Think about it: would you rather play a baseball game or watch a baseball game. I won’t even ask if you’d rather play a baseball game or play baseball on a video game! It may depend on your personality, and what you like to do, but for many of us, we would prefer to sit in our comfortable chairs and watch than to take an active role in life.
 It seems to me that our Gospel lesson addresses this problem to some extent. Jesus has been teaching a huge crowd: 5000 men, not counting women and children. And at the end of the day, his disciples offer what seems to be a very practical suggestion. They’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting time for the evening meal. Common sense would dictate that Jesus should dismiss the crowd so they can find something to eat in the surrounding towns and villages. Sounds very practical. It would seem to be the sensible thing to do. But Jesus won’t have anything to do with it! He tells them, “you give them something to eat” (Matt. 14:16)!
Of course, the disciples respond in predictable way: they ask how they could possibly feed such a huge crowd with the little food they had with them. On the surface of things it would seem impossible. But in one respect, I think Jesus might have been trying to teach them something here. They had seen him work miracles. I’m sure they had been amazed and thrilled by his miracles. And at every turn, they probably wondered whether Jesus was going to work another miracle. But they had become spectators, instead of taking an active role in the compassion of the God’s Kingdom that Jesus constantly called them to fulfill. And so in this unusual situation he challenges them to step out of their spectator role and to embrace a more active stance in their discipleship.
The story that follows is intriguing, because although it is the only miracle of Jesus recounted by all four Gospels, there is also no mention of what actually happened to make the five loaves and two fish feed such a massive crowd!  Some have suggested that the example of generosity inspired those in the crowd to share their food with others.  We don’t know that.  Popular movies have depicted it as an instantaneous miracle—Jesus lifts the food in a basket to heaven to bless it, and when he brings it down the basket is overflowing with loaves and fishes.  But we don’t know that either.  We really don’t know and may never be able to explain how Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish.[2]
What we do know is that initially the disciples wanted to send the crowds away.  After all, the whole reason why they got in the boat and went to a deserted place was to be alone.  Perhaps, in their characteristic “little faith,” they were afraid there would not be enough food.[3]  Probably a pretty reasonable concern!  At the end of the day, all that we really know about this miracle is that Jesus gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 
This brings no closer to explaining this story. But I wonder if it could be that it was in the act of the disciples being willing to step out of the relative comfort of a spectator role and taking a more active role in the work of the Kingdom that the miracle occurred.[4]  We still don’t know that for sure, but it does seem significant that the disciples who wanted to send everybody away turned around and served their food to the hungry crowds.  And it would seem that the miracle happened somehow in the giving.  By stepping out of a spectator stance and taking an active role, the disciples became channels for God’s miraculous work.  Perhaps one of the lessons is that true miracles happen in ways we can never explain. 
We’ll probably never know for sure exactly what happened that day by the Sea of Galilee.  But I think we can know that when we stay comfortably on the sidelines, adopting the role of a spectator, not much happens. When we get stuck in our fears that there will not be enough or perhaps what we have to give isn’t good enough, all there will ever be is a bunch of hungry people.[5] When we just want to send others away to fend themselves, withholding the loving kindness and compassion that we have been so generously given, we forfeit our role as Jesus’ followers.
On the other hand, when we let go any fears about our own inadequacy, as the Scripture lesson dramatically illustrates, even the little that we have can become more than enough. I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m not particularly comfortable being the center of attention. You may find that hard to believe, since I’ve been preaching since I was 17 years old. AS it happens, the path of my discipleship has taken me to the place where I’m constantly in the limelight. There are many Sundays when I think my sermon isn’t good enough. But I offer the best I have, and I’ve found that God uses it in his own way. I think that’s part of what Jesus wants us all to learn from this miracle: when we step up and follow the call to serve the Kingdom of God, God takes what we have to offer and uses it to do more than we can imagine.[6]

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/3/2014 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 418. Douglas Hare, Matthew, 165, says that all the efforts to “explain” the miracle “hardly do justice to the story in the Gospels.”
[3] Cf. M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” New Interpreters Bible 8:324; Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A commentary, 314.
[4] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.2:447, where he says that Jesus feeds the multitude “with the little that the apostles themselves have to offer them, and all that truly remains for them is to deliver and offer the much that He gives in the form of the little that they have to give.”
[5] In fact, Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., and Katharyn L. Waldron, “Jesus Feeding the Hungry: Miracle or Mandate,” The Living Pulpit (Jan 2007):7, in light of the ongoing crisis of homelessness and hunger around the world ask about a similar Gospel lesson, “When Jesus fed ‘about four thousand’ hungry people who had been with him in a ‘deserted place’ for three days (Mk 8:1-9), was this simply a miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish? Or was the miracle a mandate to believers throughout the ages to feed the hungry?”
[6] Cf. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, 419: “The miracle typifies the full and complete blessing of humanity in the meeting of human need and the experience of ultimate well-being, universal shalom. The feeding of the multitude is thus the harbinger of good news for Matthew’s church and for Christians of every era.”

No comments: