Sunday, August 10, 2008

Give Them Something

It makes sense that Jesus is trying to get away for just a little bit after hearing the news of the death of his cousin, his partner really in ministry. I love how the opening sentence stresses how hard Jesus tried to get away. He withdrew, to a deserted place, by himself. This is a man who needed some alone time. He did what he could to lose the crowds for a little, get into a boat, and just go away.

But, it didn’t work. The crowds couldn’t just let him go. They heard the same news, but still they wanted to see Jesus. It would be nice to think that maybe they followed him in sympathy, wanting to be companions to him in his grief. However, it sounds like they followed him instead worried about their own needs at least as much as Jesus’, and probably more. When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion for them. It doesn’t say that he was touched by their love or felt lifted up by their understanding of his grief and need to be a lone for a little while. It says he saw the crowds and had compassion for them. He saw their suffering and was drawn so far into it, he could do nothing else, but try to stop it.

Had he been a seminary student, probably a student pastor working part-time in a parish, or more likely a mission field, while studying part time in school, Jesus would have immediately failed the “clergy self-care” portion of the curriculum. “You need to set clearer boundaries,” the professor would have written. “You can not effectively care for others while you yourself are so newly experiencing profound grief.” He would have be reprimanded for immediately jumping back into ministry when the crowds came calling instead of carefully and pastorally explaining that in order to care for the congregation to the best of his ability he had to first care for himself.

I guess it’s a good thing Jesus wasn’t in seminary! Because while his reaction may not have been the popular decision among ancient world grief counselors, it was the perfect decision for the Son of God. Looking at the crowds that have followed him on foot from the surrounding towns, he had compassion on them. People had been hearing about this prophet and teacher and miracle worker. He could cure the sickest of the sick. He could heal those who had spent a lifetime doubled over in pain. He could cast out demons, and make the paralyzed walk. If he could do all of this and more, certainly he could heal meal, too. Grief or no grief, I just have this one quick need, and he’s so powerful, he can just take care of it quickly.

Quickly wasn’t on Jesus’ mind, though. Apparently he took his time moving among the crowds with compassion for them, suffering in their suffering, and, I’m sure, rejoicing in their healing and newfound freedom from disease, evil spirits, and the society that probably shunned them. Jesus had compassion for the crowds, and could just leave them while he was suffering. The way to relieve his experience of pain and loss was to help others be rid of theirs.

I love imagining the disciples in stories like these. I am just drawn to these ordinary men who have so recently signed on for so much with so little understanding or knowledge of what it will be like. He wanted to get away, but now he’s surrounded by people. What is up with this guy??? He needed to be alone, but then the crowds showed up. He’s too nice to turn them away I imagine they think, so here he is at the end of another long day having had no time to himself. With all good intentions both for the crowd’s well-being and Jesus’, the disciples attempt to dismiss those who are gathered to nearby villages for the evening meal.

“Jesus, it’s getting late. We should let these people eat. Why don’t you let us help them move along so they can find something to eat somewhere else. You’ve given them what you can, now it’s time to send them away so we can get back to taking care of us.”

That compassion stuff is hard work! I mean, we know it is good and necessary and even fulfilling, right? But it is hard work! It is exhausting to care not just for or about someone, but suffer alongside with them until their suffering becomes our suffering and the burden is lifted. Compassion, literally suffering with, is hard work. It’s tiring and at the end of a long day of compassion-ing we tend to want to retreat back into ourselves and take some time to be rebuilt and rejuvenated.

Jesus had other ideas, though. “There’s no need to send them away. YOU give them something.” This is no time to turn our backs on these people. This is no time to lose them or their attention. They are here. They are with me. They are looking for God, in the presence of the divine, experiencing the Spirit, and joined together in community. Don’t send them away now. They are hungry! We can feed them.

But the disciples are the practical ones, and who can blame them. If food is promised and food isn’t delivered, who do you think the crowds are going to come after? The one who just healed them? Or his security detail? I’m pretty sure the healer is off the hook on this one. The disciples are the front lines and then know there is not nearly enough food and the crowd is way too large to attempt to feed with a couple of fish and a basket of bread. This just isn’t going to work they try to explain to Jesus, “We have nothing here.”

“You give them SOMETHING,” Jesus says. These people are ready to receive whatever we have to give. You give them something. These people are looking, are searching, are open to God’s love. You give them something. These people are hungry for God who cares not just for their spirits but their bodies, not just the eternal, but the present, not just their salvation, but their quality of life. You give them something.

I love that Jesus didn’t let the disciples off the hook. I love that he didn’t agree. “Oh you’re right. We’re not big enough. We don’t have enough. We can’t possibly make a difference to this crowd.” He didn’t do that! He didn’t let them use the excuse that they weren’t big enough, that they didn’t have enough. He didn’t let them turn the crowds away. He didn’t let them shirk the responsibility before them to minister to those who had encountered Christ. He didn’t let them take the easy road or delay their ministry because they were small in number and short on resources.

You give them something.

Jesus took what they had. It seemed meager to the disciples as they brought it forward. It’s just a couple fish and a few loaves of bread. It’s nothing. It’s never going to be enough to get the job done. But Jesus took what they had, ALL OF IT, nothing was held back out of fear or disbelief. He took what they had and he blessed it and he broke it and he gave it to them.

Does this sound familiar?

He took the bread, and he blessed it, and he broke it, and he gave it to them.
It’s exactly what he does for us. At this table, in our worship, he gives us this miracle - - the miracle of a small bite of bread and a tiny drink of the fruit if the vine becoming the bread of life and the cup of salvation. It’s exactly what he does for us, and exactly what he does with us.

You give them something, Jesus says. The crowds are there. They are experiencing me. They are healed by me. They are searching for me. You give them something.

Whatever we have, whatever we are, no matter what it seems to us, in Jesus’ hands, blessed by God, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is MORE than enough. The disciples took what Jesus gave them and used it to feed those who were gathered. The multiplication took place, the miracle happened right then and there and it’s possible that less than 1% of those present even knew it was happening. The crowds didn’t know from where the bread was coming or didn’t come. The people just knew they were being fed.

A few fed many. A little went a long way - - farther than a long way. A little went all the way there and back, for when the crowds had been fed and when the people were filled, what was left over was collected. The broken pieces, the crumbs and half eaten seconds and thirds left behind on the grass - - they all filled 12 baskets. It was more than they had to start with.

A few fed many, and many and a few were blessed because of it.

Bring what you have to the table of the Lord. Bring what you have to Jesus. It is enough It will be blessed, broken, and given to you to give to the world in his name. It is more than enough!

photo credit: hoyasmeg via photopin cc

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