On Monday I decided to pull down the Lectionary and read the readings for this Sunday. I reflected on them and meditated on them for several days, and then wrote a sermon on Friday. I’ve loved it. It’s the first sermon I’ve ever properly sat down to write. And it was lovely this morning to see how it was similar to Fr Simon’s. After a beautiful service and a coffee with some friends I returned into the church to preach. It felt great. It felt right. And so although you will not be able to see or hear it, I thought you would like to read it.
First Reading – Psalm 145:8-9, 15
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
Gospel Reading – Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he 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; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Both our readings today speak of ‘food’. Physical and spiritual feeding for life.
In the Psalms God is spoken of as feeding us in “due season”, when we need it. And that’s true isn’t it? When we are struggling, suffering, and we look to God, we are given some relief by the strengthening of his Spirit. The knowing that God loves us. In that sense God feeds us with spiritual food. With steadfast love and compassion.
Our Gospel passage today is the only part of the Gospels, apart from the death of Jesus, which appears in all four of the Gospel books. So we can understand before we’ve even examined it that it is going to have been of great significance to the early Christians, and so probably to us as well. The feeding of the five-thousand is a beautiful part of Scripture.
I almost feel sorry for Jesus at the beginning of it, as Matthew tells us that Jesus withdrew to a deserted place, trying no doubt to get some rest from the people who know of him. I crave, as many do, for spaces for stillness and meditation in my life, and find now that I can’t function without it. The world is such a busy place, and so when Jesus tries to get away for a little while, he’s followed and ends up spending the evening with 5000 others! Now I’m sure as I do you can sympathise with that. It is as though all people that meet him wish to cling to him, listen to him and have him heal them. Which is reasonable really isn’t it? And so what Jesus is called to do here, is neither to respond by asking them to leave him alone, nor immediately to produce bread with which to sustain them so that they are content. Instead, he turns to his disciples – those willing to learn, to listen – and tells them that the people must instead be fed by the disciples themselves. When the disciples tell Jesus that they have only five loaves and two fish, Jesus blesses the food and passes it into the crowd to be shared. What Jesus shows, is that even when we do not have much to give, we must not hide it away and keep it for ourselves. What we must do instead is share what we have with one another.
This is communion.
As the bread passes through the hands of Christ, the hands of compassion and love, there is more than there was to begin with. How? Why? What does this mean? I see it as a reminder that when you give out love, you get more back. Love spreads. One smile from you to another can affect tens of people that that person then meets that day. Love radiates. And this is what Jesus is showing.
The disciples in the passage, you and I today, hold food, physical and spiritual, which if held, metaphorically, in Christ’s hands, in the light of love and compassion, can feed thousands.
Africa is in crisis. Thousands of people are dying. Now. Right now. God has given us the ability to share all the food that we have. There is enough food on this earth to feed all peoples. America makes up just 6% of the world population, yet has a third of the world’s resources to itself. And I’m thinking England isn’t a lot better. Whilst we worry about giving our children too many sweets, the mothers and fathers in Africa are wondering if their children will live into the next morning.
Jesus didn’t turn away the five-thousand people that turned up at his quiet place. He shared the food that he had, and his compassion, his love, the holiness in him enabled others to bring forth what they had too. He convinced others that sharing was the way forward. And in today’s climate, that is indeed a miracle.
Jesus gave of himself to all that he came across. When Jesus shared what he had with five-thousand others, he did not check to see if they were the neighbours of his birthplace, or if they were Jewish, or if they were women… he didn’t quiz them individually to see what their sexual orientations were, or if they were unemployed. He asked no questions. He recognized that each person there was a human being: a sister, a brother in the human family. We are all God’s children, whatever name we give to that higher being.
In the recent year I have spent many Sundays travelling to churches of other Christian denominations, and conversed with people of other religions too. Buddhists, Muslims, Salvationists, Roman Catholics, Baptists… I’ve been around. And what I discovered was that each person that did not adopt the fundamental stance of ‘believe this or else’, was willing to be open to my different beliefs and to respect me as an individual with free will, free choices, and my own life experience of the walk with God. What we recognized in one another was love. In one another, we saw God. For God is love.
Jesus cast out no people. He opened his arms to all. And in the end, they crucified him for it. Put nails through his hands, and murdered him. As they murdered Mahatma Gandhi. As they murdered Martin Luther King. Jesus profoundly challenged political life. He turned the tables over in the temples, he conversed with supposedly ‘unclean’ people, he challenged the wealthy people’s way of life and asked them to share what they have with others. Asked them not to judge, but to love all human beings equally.
And so now, reflecting on these two readings, I ask you to be willing to do the same. We can love others as Jesus loved others, as Jesus loved us.
In our Eucharist, in the words from the Schillebeeckx Preface, we pray:
Lord God, we thank you for Jesus, the truly human being, who has changed the face of the earth, because he spoke of a great vision, of God’s new age which will come one day, a world of freedom, love and peace, the perfection of your creation.
Let’s aim a bit higher for that vision eh?
The Lord be with you.