Is anyone here planning to go to the Flower Show this week?
Will you take a packed lunch with you?
Or perhaps you’ll get lunch from one of the many catering outlets that’ll be there.
Whatever and wherever you do it, you will probably eat and drink during the day.
The crowds who come to Jesus for teaching or healing don’t appear to have thought about food for themselves. There are no burger vans, no “Spuds-u-like” and certainly no hot dogs! Just a hot sun and no running water nearby.
But before we think more about the predicament of the crowd let’s have a look at where Jesus and his disciples are at the beginning of the story.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all write about this event which says something about the impact it had on those first disciples. It takes place just after Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been executed. Shocked and grief-stricken at this news and perhaps with a sense of foreboding about his own future, Jesus wants some quiet time and space to pray and recover.
It’s not to be. Crowds follow him to the deserted place he’s chosen and prevent him finding his longed for solitude.
Matthew tells us that Jesus “had compassion for” the crowd and Mark adds “because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. And so, even though he’s exhausted and drained, he reaches out to them with healing for those who are ill.
The day goes by very quickly and the disciples urge Jesus to send everyone home so that they can eat.
What happens next is probably one of the best known miracles in the story of Jesus:
- Five thousand people (five thousand men and women and children says Matthew);
- one small boy;
- five loaves;
- two fishes;
- everyone eats;
- twelve baskets left over.
It’s so familiar but let’s try and think about the story with minds and hearts open to receiving new ideas and insights and a sense of where we are in it all.
Because we too are part of this story. We too are disciples of Jesus, following him, listening to him, or reading about his teaching, praying for ourselves and others and seeking to do his will.
In Matthew’s story the crowds come out into the countryside to see and hear Jesus.
We are here in our church at the heart of the community around us. Far from travelling a long way on foot to be with us, most people living in our parish are barely aware of our presence. We certainly don’t have to think about crowd control and lack of space – not yet anyway!
But even though they don’t look to us for help and healing, for a sense of meaning and purpose in life, Jesus still has compassion for everyone in this parish – he still sees sheep without a shepherd – hungry for his living bread of life.
And Jesus says to us, as he does to his disciples, “you give them something to eat”. He looks to us to bring his shepherding, his care, his Good News to those who need them and him most.
Our reaction might be exactly like the reaction of the disciples – something along the lines of:
- “we can’t possibly afford to buy food for everyone”
- “we’ve nothing but five loaves and two fish – that’s never enough”
Our response might be:
- “How can we get everyone in this parish to come to church”
- “How can we make a difference in this community.”
- “It won’t work.”
- “we can’t” or perhaps worse “we won’t”
- “we don’t have funds or any other resources for this or that”
These are often knee-jerk reactions. An automatic “we can’t” which stops us going, or even thinking, any further with something which might just be the vision God wants us to take hold of.
In our Action Plan we hope that there will be more of a “can do – yes” spirit among us. A spirit that takes dreams, mustard seeds and yeast and uses them to grow or make amazing things happen in the Kingdom of God beyond anything we imagined.
So if we find ourselves about to say “But we can’t” or “it won’t work because it didn’t before” let’s just take a quiet moment to think – to think about
- 5 loaves and 2 fishes,
- mustard seeds and yeast and
- what can happen in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then let’s say to God “Yes, we can and will but we’ll need your help”.
And this applies in our own lives as well. How often do we hold back from offering to do something or offering ourselves to God for his use without knowing exactly what that use will be.
Why might we say “I can’t do that”, “I don’t have those gifts” or feel that we don’t count, we’re not good enough or don’t matter? Fear of rejection or ridicule may lie deep within us and it’s safer not to take the risk.
It’s a risk to offer five loaves and two fishes to Jesus when there are so many people to feed. Only John mentions the presence of a boy with food.
But however it happens the small amount of food is offered to Jesus.
- He takes the loaves and fish.
- He looks up to heaven.
- He blesses it.
- He breaks it.
- He gives it to his disciples.
- His disciples are now able to feed everyone and still have some left over.
Do we, dare we, can we believe that Jesus has the power to help us do amazing things with what we can offer him as a church and as individuals?
I’m not sure that it really matters if we can’t explain what was going on all those years ago. But it is important for us to remember that:
- there was an enormous, seemingly impossible, task to be done.
- Someone said “yes” and offered all he or she had.
- Jesus took that “yes”
- He raised his eyes to heaven
- He blessed that “yes”
- He broke that “yes”
And through that one small “yes” his disciples were enabled to do something we still talk about 2000 years later.
Final thought: when we offer ourselves to God we don’t always know what he’s going to ask of us. Maybe sometimes we’re afraid of going forward in discipleship in case we’re made to do something we really can’t or don’t want to do.
My experience tells me that sometimes God does challenge us to move out of our comfort zone and stretch our spiritual muscles a bit. But what he will never do is force us into something that will do us great harm. He always does want the very best for each of us and promises to be with us whatever happens.
So let’s practice saying “yes” to visions through which, with God’s help, amazing things will happen.