The Deacon Sheila M. Scott
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
You’ve probably heard this Gospel reading a few times in your lives, especially since this is the only miracle that is recounted in all four gospels and it is thought to be an anticipation of the Last Supper and of the Eucharist. That makes it even more challenging to tell you something you may not have considered when reading this passage.
Just to set the stage for this gospel reading, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist had just been beheaded by King Herod. When Jesus heard this he withdrew by boat to a quiet place to reflect on what had happened to John, and maybe to spend some time grieving for his cousin, but the crowd followed him on foot, and would not leave him alone. The Gospel says, Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I just lost a close family member, and I am grieving, I am not sure how open I would be to welcoming a crowd of people clamoring for my attention. That is exactly the point. Jesus put aside his need for peace, time for contemplation and prayer, and placed the crowd’s needs first, and by doing that he teaches us that being compassionate is not dependent on good timing, being compassionate is a state of being, whether or not it is convenient for us at that particular time. God loves us and is compassionate towards us all the time, so we need to be the same towards our neighbors, whoever they may be.
So what is compassion? Fredrick Buechner writes in Beyond Words: “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
There have been many theories offered over the years about how Jesus was able to feed all those thousands of people with five small loaves and five fish. Leave it up to us humans to try explaining everything. If God could be understood, he would not be worthy of being worshiped as GOD.
After healing the sick, as evening was approaching, the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowd away to get food for themselves in nearby villages, but Jesus replies: You feed them! A very powerful charge to his disciples and ultimately to us. I believe Jesus is commending us not to rely only on tangible resources, but to have faith, be wholeheartedly committed to do God’s will, and the once perceived scarcity will turn into abundance. We do not come to Christ only to be fed ourselves, but to feed others, whether it is spiritual or physical nourishment.
We may never know what one smile, one good word can do to someone we may encounter in our daily lives. It may be a life changer as it was to a young boy who was walking home from school one day, determined to commit suicide due to the relentless bullying he was experiencing. When bullies knocked his books out of his arms, and he was trying to gather them from the road, a young man stopped, helped him…they became friends. A few years later, at his high school graduation, this young boy revealed his secret, and thanked his friend for saving his life with a kind act, and a kind word.
In the mid-1950s, a young boy read about Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s missionary work in Africa, and he decided he wanted to help. He had enough money to buy one bottle of aspirin. He wrote to the Air Force and asked them if they could fly over Dr. Schweitzer’s hospital and drop the bottle down to him. The Air Force shared this story with a radio station. Hearing about the young boy’s concern for others on the radio, listeners touched by the boy’s desire to help responded with monetary donations. Eventually, the boy was flown by the government to Schweitzer’s hospital along with 4 and ½ tons of medical supplies worth hundredth of thousands of dollars donated by thousands of people. When Dr. Schweitzer heard the story, he said, “I never thought one child could do so much”. A spark of love for others by a little boy is rewarded with abundance.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the failed policies and greed of the communist regime and its dictator brought my once prosperous home country to its knees. There were shortages of the basic foods and necessities everywhere, store shelves were empty, people had to stand in endless lines for everything, from bread to cooking oil, to meat, to necessary toiletry items, such as soap, detergent, and so on…it was considered a good day when you could come home with 2 or 3 different items from your shopping “spree”. Most people guarded their possessions very carefully, trying to accumulate food items for themselves. But not my father…he was an artist, a sculptor and a ceramics designer with a heart of gold, considered to be eccentric and foolish by many people in our town, because he took young artists under his wings, and helped them in every way he could. He invited them over to our house regularly for meals, shared whatever we had available. Everyone knew if they needed a bite to eat or a place to stay, even if that meant sleeping on the workshop floor, no one was turned away. Soon everyone would bring something, some would come with bread, some with homemade sausage, some with wine, some with homemade brandy, and so on, and by the time we would sit down to eat, you would not know there were food shortages, there was usually plenty of food, and some.
I was always amazed at the abundance at our table, when we started out with maybe vegetables and potatoes from our garden. I learned that love and care for your fellow human being is rewarded many-fold by God.
These three stories give us just a glimpse of what care for our fellow human beings can look like, and how it can transform our perception of scarcity to abundance. All we need is love for our neighbors and commitment to do God’s will and he will bless us more than we could ever imagine.
We live in the richest country in the world, we waste more food than some other countries ever dream of having on their tables, and yet some worry about sharing with others due to fear of not having enough. You feed them! This is Jesus’s commandment to his disciples and to us. He does not say: You may want to feed them, or you should check to see if they are worthy of your assistance, or you should make sure no foreigners are among them. No, he commands, YOU FEED THEM!
Whether that means here at St. Paul’s feeding the homeless at the Gathering, the food insecure families who are struggling to put food on the table, through our donations to Interchange, or supporting agencies who care for immigrant children who crossed our borders fleeing from gangs, torture, rape in their own countries, we can open our hearts to serve our neighbors, and we will be assured that God will multiply our resources beyond our wildest dreams.
There is so much pain and suffering and evil in this world, it is hard not to get discouraged and want to throw up our hands in despair, give up hope, feeling that we cannot possibly make a difference. But we have to remember, we are called to love God and care for our neighbors, the rest is up to God.
I would like to close with a quote from John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can. “