August 02, 2020
I don't know about you – but I do know about me, and I am tired. Tired of the anxieties, worries, and concerns that surround the unceasing pandemic of Covid 19. Anxieties over contracting the virus ourselves. Worries over friends and families who have been infected, many of whom have died. Concerns for the state of our mental health, and that of others, as we head into month six of self-imposed isolation and social contact only through the gift of the Internet.
Yes, I am tired, and perhaps you are too.
But when I began to reflect on today's gospel reading something interesting happened to me. And, to a great extent my tiredness fell away. What happened, well here it is…For some reason, Jesus came vibrantly alive in a new way for me.
When I say came alive in a vibrant and new way, I mean that I saw Jesus as a fellow human being. A young man attempting to convey to those whom he encountered Good News. News that addressed the pain and the suffering that the Jews in Galilee were experiencing at the hands of the Roman Empire. The Good News that the one God of the Jewish faith – the sovereign God who brought the world into being, who blessed Abraham to be a blessing to all nations; the God who brought the Israelites back from exile – that God was present - always. Present continually to bless and heal. Present continually to bring peace to all those who turned to him.
This young man, poor, dusty, and with "no place to lay his head." This young man whose relationship with God sent him into our world to relentlessly and with incredible courage teach, heal, and guide us into a right relationship with God – this young man in the face of all that he had and would encounter, this young man must be really tired.
Just prior to today's gospel reading that relates the story of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus had been discredited and rejected by the people of his hometown, Nazareth, as he taught in the local synagogue. Unable to "do many works because of their unbelief", he quickly left Nazareth, only to hear that his close friend, John the Baptist, the man whom he had asked to baptize him, had been beheaded by Herod.
After these two events this young man needed some alone time. He found himself on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is there that today's gospel story begins.
I imagine Jesus getting into a small wooden boat and silently drifting out into the Sea of Galilee trying to adsorb the events of the past few days, reflecting on to what and to where God was calling him next - wanting just a bit of time to be with God, to pray, to re-group, to gather the strength to carry on. In this little boat he had found a quiet place – a place to spend some alone time.
And then before he knew it, crowds surrounded him. They had followed him on foot from surrounding towns. They were yearning for his healing words, for his message of hope in these times of Roman domination.
And this tired young man responded to the crowd's yearning with compassion. Matthew tells us, "When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick." And, as evening drew near, the disciples urged Jesus to send the crowd away. They knew that people must be hungry and tired. Perhaps they were afraid of unrest among some of the more unruly members of the crowd – remember there were reportedly 5000 people. That is a big crowd with a lot of diversity within it.
The disciples said to Jesus, "This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food."
Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." "You." Jesus lays it on the shoulders of the disciples to find the resources to feed the crowd.
The disciples, perhaps somewhat bewildered, responded, "We only have here five loaves and two fish." The disciples were seeing only what they did not have. They failed to consider what they did have. As one sermon writer suggested, "The disciples have five loaves and two fish – seven items. In the disciples' hands, five loaves and two fish are not much, but there are other hands here – Jesus' hands. They really have eight items."
Jesus ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And "all ate and were filled."
Amazing – an amazing story of compassion, abundance, and a foretaste of the Eucharistic meal. Also a story reminiscent of the manna miracle; the edible substance that God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert during the 40-year period following the Exodus and prior to the conquest of Canaan.
Today's gospel passage conveys a story of compassion. Jesus saw the crowd, had compassion on them, and healed those who were sick.
It is an abundance story in which God's providence solves a problem that seems impossibly large.
It is also a Eucharistic story with its overtones of the Lord's Supper.
In all, it is a continuation of the story of this young man, Jesus of Nazareth. A young man who, despite his need for time alone after being rejected by his townspeople and hearing of the brutal death of his friend John the Baptist, rose to his call from God. A tired young man who in compassion was moved to respond to those who sought comfort and healing; to those who were seeking God. A tired young man who insisted that his disciples participate in offering the incredible abundance that becomes possible when asking the blessing of God. A tired young man who knows only one way – the way of compassion and peace. The way of love and the way of forgiveness. The way of God, not the way of the Empire.
It is this young Jesus that came so vividly alive in my mind this past week. And as I reflected on the possibilities that may have given rise to this story, which by the way appears in all four gospels, I thought more and more about the importance of listening for and responding to God's call for us, his disciples, no matter how tired we may be.
I also thought about the disciples' fear that they lacked enough food – enough to provide for the crowd. I thought about Jesus' insistence that they bring the loaves to him for God's blessing. And then, his command that they distribute the bread – the disciples, not Jesus, were to do the work of providing for the crowd.
That brings me back to the concept of "tired."
Am I, are we, too tired by – that could translate into too numbed by – the dual pandemics – Covid 19 and political unrest - to listen for God's voice in the tsunami of media messages that wash over us each day? Are we too tired to make the effort to take our concerns, our anxieties, our fears – our scarcities -to God? Are we too tired to realize that once presented to God these scarcities are frequently turned into abundance for us to distribute to those who have appeared on our horizon seeking healing - seeking God?
Are we too tired to have the hope that by lifting our voices to God – all of us together asking for abundance – too tired to have the hope that we will bring forth the compassion and healing that the young man from Nazareth has to offer? Are we too tired to realize that healing is possible but only if we get out of our boat and go into the field to meet scarcity head-on, knowing that Jesus has blessed us and has commanded us – his disciples – to distribute the bread, the abundance – the healing and the peace.
Are we too tired to allow abundance to prevail?
I now have the vivid image of this young man, Jesus, firmly implanted in my mind. I am still tired, but I know that I can overcome this tiredness, if I just get up and go. Jesus is there to heal my tiredness and to bless my scarcity so that it becomes abundance. With abundance, I, we, can do so much in this broken world.
The fallout from the unceasing presence Covid 19 and political unrest continues to take a great toll on the health – physical, socio-political, and economic of our nation. The on-going bickering that pervades every level of society and is the order of the day on so many different social media platforms has created an atmosphere of disinformation, anxiety, and mistrust of every aspect of society and government.
I believe we have a right to be tired, but we cannot be tired. The young man is out of the boat. He is in the field with a crowd of 5000. He is asking us to distribute abundance. An abundance that will lead to healing and freedom from scarcity. AMEN