It is enough for the healing of this world when God and we work together; then miracles happen in God’s divine grace and our human partnership.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 18, year A
Texts: Matthew 14:13-21; Isaiah 55:1-5
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The crowd was overwhelming.
We’ve heard 5,000. That’s a lot. But Matthew very clearly counts 5,000 men, apart from women and children. If there were at least as many women as men, if half the people brought one child, both conservative guesses, there were at least 15,000 people fed that day. 15,000 people among whom Jesus walked and healed and blessed. 15,000 people with deep needs, in poverty, struggling with illness, suffering under oppression.
Overwhelming might be an understatement.
And it feels familiar. Millions suffer in our world, close by in our city and nation and far away on the other side of this planet. Oppression, war, violence, racism, sexism, all the systemic things people do that harm and kill others. Starvation, loss of home and life from climate change, poverty, homelessness, inequal distribution of resources, all the particular sufferings that afflict the creation and all within it. It’s hard to know where to begin, or if our puny efforts do anything. Overwhelming is an understatement.
Overwhelming is our link to this story. What happened in this encounter between overwhelming need and Christ and his followers offers hope when we, too, face overwhelming need and recognize that we, too, are Christ’s followers.
The ultimate hope we have, the ultimate plan of God, is that the world, like the crowds, is fed, satisfied, whole.
Not just for a day. But for good. God has entered the world to fill it with steadfast, sure love, as the prophet says today, the only thing that really satisfies. A few verses later, we’re promised that God’s Word will always do what God wants it to do. So God plans on bringing healing to this world, not just for one meal, but true healing, justice, and peace for this creation. And God will accomplish this.
But what we learn in this story of bread and fish and thousands of needy is how this healing will be accomplished. We learn it will not be enough, the healing will not satisfy, until we understand and live out what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples today. If we understand how God’s Word does what God needs.
Our first learning begins by hearing what Jesus tells the disciples.
The disciples, facing massive, hungry crowds, and the end of a long day, ask Jesus to send them away for food. Instead, Jesus says, “you give them something to eat.”
The disciples weren’t out of line. They had tiny resources, two fish and five loaves. There were thousands in need. It was reasonable to send them away.
Sometimes we look at our meager resources and at the overwhelming problems of the world and also think, “they should really go somewhere else.” But Jesus says, “you give them something to eat”. It’s our problem to solve.
God didn’t come into this world in Christ to heal it by being a divine vending machine, solving all problems. Jesus did miracles out of compassion. But his mission was to draw all people into God’s life, into the role of Christ, so the people of the world help solve the problems of the world.
God isn’t satisfied, it isn’t enough, fixing all things for us.
To be fair, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to feed the crowds. But too often the Church sees the overwhelming problems of the world, sits on our collective hands, and says, “God, do something.”
People look at the world’s problems and conclude either God isn’t loving or God doesn’t exist. Rarely do they consider a third option: God exists, and God is loving, but God wants us to be a part of the healing of this world.
Jesus desires that all his followers become Christ for the healing of the world. It’s how all will be reached, and how Christ’s followers grow into who we’re meant to be. Popping something out of the divine vending machine at each crisis might miraculously fix all things. But God’s people won’t become who God dreams.
God knows we have all we need to feed and house everyone, end war and violence, build a just society. God needs our hands and wisdom and strength to use what we have been given to heal the world, and become who we are meant to be.
Nothing less will satisfy God.
But sometimes we have the opposite problem. We get out into the crowds and forget that Christ is still with us.
Sometimes we act as if solving all of the world’s problems is our burden alone. We don’t take it to Jesus, like the disciples did.
In the past half-century or more the Church has done a remarkable turn-around, taking on God’s core issues of justice and peace for all. We’ve moved from a view of church that exists solely for members to have certainty of heaven after death to a Church whose calling it is to be Christ in the world, to end injustice and oppression and poverty and all the world’s problems.
Except we often forget God is still involved in the healing. Jesus said, “you give them something to eat,” but he also poured divine power into this supper and provided a miraculous meal. Surely some there also had brought their own food and shared. But that doesn’t explain the astonishing twelve basketsful of leftovers, far more food than could be accounted for by anything but God’s miraculous action.
We are sent as Christ into the world, but we’re not solely responsible for Christ’s work. No matter how meager our five loaves and two fish seem, God always transforms our scarcity into abundance for all.
In fact, this story teaches us that God’s love is the beginning and the ending of all healing.
Do you see? It’s Jesus who walks the crowd during the day, healing, blessing. We only hear of the disciples in the evening, when they raise the question of supper. And when this meal was over, first Christ sent the disciples away, then dismissed the crowds himself.
Christ’s love and compassion for the crowds preceded and succeeded the disciples’. God’s love for the suffering and dying of this world precedes and succeeds ours. God’s love for Mount Olive was here before any of us, and will be here well after us. There is no pain of this world into which God hasn’t already invested far more than we.
The Triune God is there in the overwhelming pain and suffering already, is coming with us, and will be there after we’re done. These overwhelming problems aren’t ours to solve alone. God will ensure healing happens. While also saying, “you heal them. You feed them. You make peace.”
Nothing less will satisfy the world’s needs.
This is God’s path to the world’s healing. And our path.
When we’re neither satisfied sitting back waiting for God, nor deluded into thinking the world’s overwhelming weight lies on our shoulders alone.
When Christ draws us into the heart of God, into the life in Christ that is ours, and together we go out into the crowds and are Christ. And they are Christ to us.
And when God’s mighty power in us and in the world turns death into life, despair into hope, scarcity into abundance. Until all are satisfied. All have enough. And God’s whole creation is healed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen