Rev. Chris Snow
North Hill Christian Church
August 2, 2020
What a difference context makes to a story. When I think about the feeding of the multitude texts, I tend to imagine Jesus on a hillside preaching to this great crowd, who are sitting on this nice luscious grass, with the sunsetting behind him. This beautiful image, and yet for this instance of the feeding of the multitudes that image misses the point. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this feeding narrative coincides, not with a period of teaching, but rather with the news that John the Baptist has been beheaded, and Jesus in hearing the news wants some time to himself. He goes off to a deserted place. Not a luscious green meadow, instead a place where he expects to be alone.
In a few of the other tellings of this story, the disciples go with him, but here the disciples catch up to him, and as it is getting late, they reiterate that this is a deserted place, pointing to the lack of resources for the large crowd to be fed.
But even as Jesus was seeking rest and renewal, he had compassion for those that had followed him to this desolate place. Curing their sick. Bringing wholeness where there was brokenness. But when the disciples pointed out the issue of the lack of food, he enlisted their help. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the one to do everything, but here the disciples are instrumental in the distribution of the food, after Jesus blessed and broke the bread.
In the midst of dealing with grief, and possibly exhaustion, Jesus, continues to show compassion for those in need, but also enlisting others in caring for the needs of the multitude.
Now, I had not intentionally picked this text for the Sunday before I take some vacation for much needed rest and renewal. But the coincidence isn’t lost to me. Throughout the Gospels we hear time and time again of Jesus heading off by himself for prayer, and rest. These intentional acts that should also remind us of the need for us to care for ourselves and seek rest when we need it. One of those regular sayings that I hear or see within clergy groups around rest is something like, “One can’t fill another’s cup if your cup is already empty.” If we are to care for one another, and the least of these we must be willing to take care of ourselves.
The other point that comes to me out of this text is need to enlist others to help with the ministry to which we are called. If we have the capacity to help we should do so, because one person cannot do everything on their own. Jesus enlisted the help of his disciples, to serve the multitudes, and to collect the leftovers.
Last week, we installed the new and continuing officers who are serving in various leadership and servant roles for this congregation. That doesn’t mean that they are the ones to do everything. Rather they are helping to lead and guide us in their given areas of responsibility. When we installed these leaders, we were also called to recognize and remember our responsibility to support, and aid those tasked with leading us. The work of this congregation requires us all to lend a hand where our gifts and talents allow.
Finally, as we find the disciples collecting the leftovers, everyone had enough to eat. Everyone’s needs to be fed had been filled. Through the combined works of Jesus, and his disciples, everyone’s hunger had been satisfied with an abundance of leftovers. Something that would have been noticed as this crowd of 10-15,000 people, when you include the women and children, returned home.
Imagine with me, as this large crowd returns home from a desolate place, not hungry but satified. A great crowd returning to their homes, talking about this experience they had just had, while at the same time everyone is on edge because of John the Baptists death. Yet in the midst of this chaos, caused by the death of a prophet, the people are talking about how people were cured, and everyone was miraculously fed.
In the midst of a time of turmoil, there was still reason to hope. Even though a prophet who preached of the coming of the messiah, and declared a baptism of forgiveness, has been killed by the king, there is still good news being declared in the countryside. Even though the recent event struck a devastating blow to the people, they have still found good news because of Jesus Christ.
As we hear the text of the feeding of the multitudes today, let us not forget that the context of this text does matter. The feeding narrative didn’t happen on a nice peaceful field on just any day. It took place as the people were grieving. It took place in a deserted place. And it happened as Jesus was seeking solitude but helped because of his compassion for the people.
However we see ourselves in this text there is good news. If we are those in need of rest, there is the affirmation that we all deserve to take those moments to tend to our needs. If we are those who are able to help, we are called to lend a hand and support those who are already serving. And, if we are those in need of sustenance and healing, there is indeed good news, even in times of turmoil and chaos, that through the works of our savior we can find that which sustains us and makes us whole.