Feeding the Multitude

“You give them something to eat.”

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Read Matthew 14:13-21 here.

This is probably a familiar story.  It’s told in all four of the Gospels.  Matthew even shows us that this happened more than once, because in the very next chapter Matthew tells the story of Jesus feeding a slightly smaller crowd with a few more loaves of bread (Matthew 15:29-39).  In John’s gospel, Jesus also does something similar with wine at a wedding.  I’m not surprised, because that’s the kind of thing God does.

God provides.

Psalm 136:25 says, “God is the one who provides food to every living thing.”

God provides. It’s one of the big things God does.  God created the world and everything in it, and on the sixth day when God created humans, God said, “I have given you every kind of plant for food, for you and for everything that has life” (Genesis 1:29-30).  (And because he loves us, later on, he gave us prime rib.)

We see God’s provision in Exodus 16, when God gives mana and quail to the Israelites in the desert.

We see in Genesis 22 that God provides for Abraham.  Abraham needed to upgrade the software on his computer.  Isaac argued.  “Dad, that the computer can’t run the new software.  You need a lot more memory to be able to handle the upgrade.” But Abraham, a man of great faith, gazed calmly at his son and said, “God will provide the ram.”[1]

God provides.  What do we do?

We give thanks.  That’s what Jesus does in verse 19.  The disciples give Jesus the two fish and five loaves and the very first thing Jesus does is give thanks to God.  The usual Jewish table grace is ‘Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, for You bring forth bread from the earth,’ a daily reminder that the provision of food is itself a miracle.[2]

On one episode of the cartoon The Simpsons, the dad, Homer, asks his son Bart to say grace before dinner.  So Bart says, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”[3]

We know, maybe now more than ever, that it’s not that simple.

  • God makes seeds grow.
  • Then there’s the harvesting and the processing.
  • There’s manufacturing and transporting.
  • Then there’s buying from the grocery store, and then cooking and serving.

There are a whole lot of people involved in all those steps, and now in the midst of the pandemic it’s a miracle if nobody in that process got sick or lost their job, and it’s a miracle if the store had what you needed.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, for You provide. 

Thanks, God.

God provides.  We give thanks.  And we share. That’s what Jesus tells the disciples to do in verse 16.

The disciples came to Jesus near the end of the day and said, “It’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

You feed them.

Not somebody else.

Not sending them away to feed themselves.

You do it.

And the disciples respond with the classic answer for everything.  But….

Imagine you’re in the backyard and you’ve got two burgers on the ‘que and the buns, and suddenly the whole neighborhood shows up because it smelled so good.  Thousands of people pouring into your backyard.

“But we only have these five loaves and two fish” (v17).

So Jesus says, “Bring them here.”

They entrusted Jesus with the five loaves and two fish and Jesus blessed their trust by multiplying the gift so that it was enough to feed everyone and still have some left over.  Actually, to have twelve baskets left over.

Twelve disciples.  Twelve baskets left over.

Even the disciples ended up with more than they started with.

God provides.  We give thanks.  And we share.  And God blesses our sharing.  And I have to say, we’re pretty good about sharing food.  It might be one of the things we do best.

In our newsletter this week just below the section about this being our scripture lesson for today, there was a picture of our new mini Free Pantry that Bella Brownlee built and 116134310_3664502666896619_1791425844389390425_oinstalled in front of our church.  And then not far below that there was an article about the gap lunches we’re helping the ministerial alliance to provide to Sterling kids during August.  Both of these are about sharing food.  And yesterday I stopped by the pantry and found it has been stocked full of food.  Thank you!

We share in other ways, too.  We share our money.  Thank you for sharing yours with our church.  Another way to help with food is to give money to the food bank.  Many of you probably do that, too.

God provides, we give thanks, and we share, and God blesses our sharing, whether we can only give a little or we give a lot.  Our giving matters.  Our ownership of our ability to share matters.  Jesus words seem quite pointed to me.  “YOU give them something to eat.”

One day a chicken and a pig were talking about how to solve world hunger, and the chicken said,

“If we both give, you and me, we can give everyone a nice breakfast of ham and eggs.”

And the pig said,

“That’s easy for you to say.  For you it’s a contribution. For me, it’s total commitment.”[4]

We do not all have the same offering or the same level of commitment.  What I’m hearing in Jesus’ words to the disciples, “YOU give them something to eat,” is a challenge to see the needs, and acknowledge them, and to respond.

Not to ignore the needs, or expect someone else to take care of them, or to expect people to take care of themselves.

For some needs there are simple, straightforward answers.  Sharing food is pretty straightforward.  Finding out more about the reason someone needs food is also important.  We need to work on the underlying causes.

One underlying cause that we may not think about if we aren’t in this situation is minimum wage.  Here in Kansas, minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Think about that for a minute.  Can you live on $7.25 an hour?

No, not unless someone is helping you out.  But what if you don’t have family to help you out, or a spouse who has a better job than you do?  According to the economists at MIT, the living wage for a single person in Kansas is $10.85.[5]  Far too many are trying to survive on less.

Side note, since I know some of you don’t live in Kansas, I looked up Ventura County, California, and there the minimum wage is higher – it’s $12 an hour.  But a living wage for Ventura County, California is $14.85 an hour. [6]

So what can we do about it?

  • We write our legislators and ask them to change it.
  • We vote for legislators who will change it.
  • We make sure, if we are in a position to employ people, that we are paying them enough.
  • We keep an eye out for those who need help because they make less than a living wage and we give them help.

Jesus says, “YOU do something about it.”  What might God be calling us to do?

God provides, we give thanks, and we share.

There’s something else going on in this story that we don’t usually talk about.  There’s compassion and healing and dignity.

The situation is that Jesus has just learned that his cousin John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod.  Jesus is trying not to lose his own head over this news, so he’s gone off by himself to pray.  But the people have followed him.  Jesus sees the crowd of people and has compassion on them, he loves them deeply, and so what he’s spent the entire day doing is healing them.  He hasn’t ignored them or told them to go away, he’s dignified them with a response, a compassionate, loving response.

Dignity is the word that I kept hearing this week as people were talking about John Lewis, the congressman who was one of the five men who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. on the march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma, Alabama, and organized so many protests to fight for the rights of Black people to vote and to live.  Just days before Lewis died, he went to stand on the Black Lives Matter mural in Washington DC, and he wrote a letter to be published on the day of his funeral. 3MZIU6P3LVCFLKTDXROG2A2GIE

I’ll just read you the first paragraph:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.[7]

To demand respect for human dignity.

I learned a valuable lesson about dignity when I was a volunteer at the food bank in Galveston, Texas. They gave out two categories of food – homeless food, and food for everybody else.  The reason for the difference was that homeless food needed to be ready to eat.  The food we gave to everybody else required cooking.  Rice and pasta need to be boiled on a stove.  If you’re homeless, you don’t have a stove or a pot or a place to keep any of that.

Homeless people came in every day for their food and we gave them a snack pack that had a protein, a fruit, and a starch.  Often that meant a little can of Vienna sausages, an applesauce cup, and a package of crackers.  One day one of the ladies who worked there watched a homeless person try to eat all that with their fingers.  She got angry and said we needed to help our clients to have dignity.  So she went to the store and bought napkins and spoons, and from that day on every snack pack included napkins and utensils.

When we are sharing whatever God has given us to share, we need to make sure we are not taking away someone’s dignity.  “Dignity is our inherent value as human beings.  Everyone is born with it.[8]  Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.  If we wouldn’t eat without utensils, we shouldn’t expect someone else to.  If we wouldn’t settle for a job that pays less than we need to survive, we shouldn’t expect someone else to.  If we wouldn’t go without healthcare, we shouldn’t expect someone else to.

If you have been able to have those, beautiful.  That’s not the case for everyone, and it’s especially not been the case for people of color.

Jesus presents us with a challenge.  God provides.  We give thanks. We share. We respect everyone’s dignity.  We see where there are needs.  We don’t expect someone else to be the solution.  Jesus says, “YOU do it.”

In our small community, there’s already lots of helping out, with the food bank, and Goodfellows.  Our Ministerial Alliance helps with electricity bills and gas and water.  But what else isn’t getting our attention?  Wages?  Healthcare?  If you’re seeing a need but you don’t know how to help, start with prayer, and let’s do something.

Sometimes the needs are so great that they seem impossible.  But the impossible is what nobody can do until somebody does it.  Jesus died and rose from the dead to save us from our sins. God does the impossible.  And with God’s help, we can too.

Let’s do it.

——-

[1] Stephen Bramer, The Bible Reader’s Joke Book: A collection of over 2,000 jokes, puns, humorous stories, and funny sayings, pg.41, Kindle edition.

[2] Rev. Jock Stein https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/68525/02-August-9-Sunday-after-Pentecost.pdf

[3] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0757023/characters/nm0004813

[4] Stephen Bramer, The Bible Reader’s Joke Book.

[5] https://livingwage.mit.edu/states/20

[6] https://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/06111

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/opinion/john-lewis-civil-rights-america.html

[8] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dignity/201304/what-is-the-real-meaning-dignity-0

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