The Rev. Sheila Scott, Deacon
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Today’s gospel reading is one of the best known bible stories, since all four of the Gospel writers recorded the so called “loaves and fishes miracle”, Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, which most bible scholars believe was likely thousands more with the women and children.
This story illustrates once again Jesus’ compassion and concern about both the physical and the spiritual needs of human beings. Although Jesus was trying to get away from the crowd, when he saw them following him, he had compassion towards them; unlike the disciples who despite having been witnesses of Jesus’ miracles before, were only focusing on the obstacles, the difficulties of the task of feeding the multitude. Philip tells Jesus: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7).
Then a young boy offers his five barley loaves and two fish. Yet, because of their lack of faith, the disciples cannot see any possibility of feeding the multitude with these meager resources. Jesus makes them sit down, gives thanks to God for the food, revealing the importance of acknowledging who provides everything and from whom all blessing flow. Jesus orders the disciples to distribute the food to the people. The disciples had the responsibility to give to the people what Christ had given them. When God gives to us, we have the responsibility to faithfully share with others.
Through this lesson, the disciples learn that true faith must rely on divine resources, not physical and material ones, and it is about time we, his followers learned this lesson also.
Aren’t we just like the disciples? Don’t we say the need is too great, there is no way we can help everyone, so we want the needy to go away, not bother us with their presence, remind us of their seemingly unending needs, make us feel uncomfortable?
We, the people of the richest country in the world, are afraid if everyone is afforded health insurance, or a living wage, or quality education, or a roof over one’s head, we will go broke, or our way of life will suffer. We, a nation of immigrants, with the few exceptions of our Native American brothers and sisters, are afraid that new immigrants will destroy our country, despite the fact that immigrants built this country. Greed has no bounds; many believe, as long as my needs are met, your needs and survival is inconsequential.
I have to confess, at one time, I felt self-righteous, having waited 3 years for my visa to come to the US, I felt everyone should follow the rules, as I have done. Except that I later realized, despite the fact that I lived in a communist country, faced some hardships, I did have a roof over my head, a family who could support me if I was let go of my job, the country was at peace; I was not facing the ravages of war.
I finally realized, during the war in the former Yugoslavia, and the genocide in Rwanda, those fleeing did not have the luxury of waiting for visas; they were fleeing for their lives, with only their clothes on their backs. So are the immigrants of today. As hard as it was coming to a new country in my situation, I believe it is thousands of times harder under those circumstances, facing uncertainty, danger and humiliation along the way.
I read the other day that Pope Francis’ popularity is diminishing, because he is focusing too much on the needs of the poor and the oppressed, and calling the world leaders out on the idolatry of money and power, and their disregard for God’s creation. The Pope makes them clearly uncomfortable. One thing is for certain, following Jesus’ commandments will not win anyone a popularity contest.
But Jesus calls us to be compassionate towards the stranger, the poor, and the neglected. So where is our compassion as a nation?
I feel our country has become a country of hypocrites. How can we claim to be a “Christian Nation” and treat God’s creation with such utter disrespect?
If we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus, it is time we stand up for what He clearly commands us to do, to love God and our neighbor, every neighbor!
God will shatter our low expectations of what we can do if we learn to bring him what we have already been given. When we are willing to offer our lives sacrificially, relinquishing our hold on whatever God has given us in terms of time, money, talents, God will use these ordinary things to create extraordinary things. We must never believe our resources are too little to serve God. God delights in taking a humble, seemingly insignificant person and using him or her for his glory (1 Corinthians 1:27).
I would like to close with a Franciscan blessing:
“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace!
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy!
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor”.