As dinner was ending last night I said I needed to finish my sermon about the feeding of the 5000. My daughter said, “with social distancing and masks.” We all laughed. Such is life some 2000 years later.
Wherever these people were along the edge of this secluded area by the sea, I seriously doubt they were masked and six feet apart. I imagine them being crowded along the shore and up the grassy hillside so they could hear what this amazing teacher had to say.
Had he been wandering among them for most of the day? It was at least all afternoon. He was close enough so he could talk to them and touch them with his healing hands. Can you imagine such a moment? What must it have been like?
Maybe he didn’t shake hands or hug or bump elbows with all 5000 men plus the uncounted women and children, but it must have been amazing. And the cries of joy and praise would have rippled through the crowd again and again keeping everyone completely engaged. No one was leaving until they had touched him or been touched by him.
Late afternoon turns into evening and the disciples are looking at the sun lowering in the horizon and realizing that this could go on all night and they wouldn’t get dinner. The crowds needed to go home to eat as well. At least a couple of them come up to Jesus and say, “Send them home.”
Was that code for, “Do something for us so we can eat and go to bed”?
I wonder if they were thinking they might get some of that compassion that Jesus was giving away to everyone else within earshot.
But Jesus decides this is the moment for them to become the ones who start imitating the master. He says, “You give them something to eat.” I assume they are pretty startled by this since, instead of saying OK, they say, “How can we? There’s no food…just a couple of fish & some bread!” At which point Jesus takes what they offer and turns it into enough food to feed everyone with leftovers including them!
Everybody has been wowed by that miracle ever since!
As I sat with this the other day I came up with a bunch of questions. This is often a story foreshadowing the Last Supper. What does it mean to hear this story and NOT get to come forward to receive bread and wine?
Since we can’t do that right now, what is feeding us? Or filling us?
And in the absence of this meal I wondered if maybe the story had something else to teach us.
This story isn’t as much about the miracle Jesus performs as much as it is about the challenge he gives to those disciples. “No, you do something. You feed them.”
I realized the compassion Jesus has on these people at the beginning of the story runs through it to the end. Jesus shows them compassion, not pity. Compassion is about caring for others in a time of need. Com means with; passion or its root word, pati is about suffering. We get the word patient from this Latin word. Synonyms include: kindness, consideration, empathy, and mercy.
So the lesson isn’t just a miracle about the Eucharist. It is also an opportunity for the disciples to learn to act with their own compassion. To be resourceful. To do as Jesus does and become more like him. To show kindness and mercy. It is then that Jesus takes what they offer and turns it into blessing.
If we sit with that for a bit, how are we changed?
Then my questions turned outward. Who are we feeding? Who or what do we have compassion for?
You know those potatoes and onions on our back porch that we’ve been offering to anybody that wants them? That’s a story in feeding the 5000.
George Ahearn started East West Food Rescue when he saw that farmers were destroying their crops because of Covid-19 and the shutting down of restaurants & groceries.
The non-profit he created has moved three million pounds of produce from farms in Eastern Washington to the west side for distribution to hundreds of food banks and meal programs.
It’s found its way to St. Clare’s. That abundance is on our back porch and starting in a week or so in our parking lot where we hope to share 10,000 pounds of food to those who are being hit economically by the virus.
Then there are the knitters. Someone said, “I have yarn.” Low and behold, there are now prayer shawls all over the world! They fill the hearts of those who find comfort and the hearts of those who knit them are filled as well.
Someone asks for prayers and a small, but powerful group of people start praying for healing to happen in the lives of the suffering. Healing happens. It’s not always in the form of a cure, but the lives of those we pray for are touched and powerfully healed.
And as we go beyond our own circle of faith, think about the compassion of the first responders and the medical staff of every hospital in the world. And as someone wrote to me this past week, think of the last responders. Those who are called to care for those whose bodies could not withstand the ravages of this pandemic. Undertakers and morticians and funeral homes are overwhelmed. And yet, they are providing compassion to provide mercy and grace for and with the dead.
And all those who are working for justice and are standing up for what has torn this country apart since it’s beginnings. The voices of the oppressed need to be listened to with new and compassionate ears.
Those who are willing to speak are being heard by many who have never realized that their lives have not included the compassion to nurture those who have suffered more than long enough.
George Ahearn has a message for anyone who wants to make their community a better place, “I have seen minutes of effort move thousands, and thousands of pounds (of food). Just figure out what you are passionate about and what you could get involved in.”
There is a lesson here for all of us. “You feed the ones who need some kind of compassion.” It may be food or justice or it may be dignity at the end. It can be anything in between. Whatever it is, bring it to Jesus and he will bless it and make it so abundant that there will be enough left over so that we will be filled as well. And that will be a Eucharist unlike anything we have ever known before.
The Reverend Patty Baker
St. Clare Episcopal Church