ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AUGUST 10, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
GIVEN AND BROKEN
Matthew 14: 13 – 21
Leftovers happen. If you’re half Italian they happen a lot. Some people get quite excited by leftovers. Others, not so much. Sometimes leftovers are appreciated because we’ve got better things to do than cook. Ironically, most of us wouldn’t dream of serving leftovers when we have company yet we give them to God and think he should be grateful. As this verse illustrates: Leftovers are such humble things we’re loath to serve them to a guest and yet we serve them to our Lord though He deserves our very best. We give our best self to the world where we are met with strife and when that’s done we give to Him the remnant of our life. When we give God the leftovers of our lives it reveals how little we value him. Maybe a relationship with Jesus isn’t as important to us as whatever else life offers. Or we may have started out giving God our best but stopped – perhaps we got burnt out and resentful, or maybe life hurt us and, blaming God, we decided to serve our own needs first and toss God the scraps. We’re told throughout scripture to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Yet our heart, soul and might are devoted to other things – to lesser gods. Regardless of this, God always give us his very best.
Today we read the account of Jesus feeding a crowd of over 5000 people with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Since this is the only miracle story recorded in all 4 gospels, we know this event was both well-known in and important to the early church. Jesus had boarded a boat to escape for some well-deserved vacation time but was headed off at the pass by a large crowd. Rather than being annoyed that his retreat was interrupted, Jesus had compassion for the crowd and spent the day and well into the evening healing people. After a long day in the sun, the disciples began to worry that people would be passing out from hunger. They went to Jesus advising him to send the crowd away to eat in the nearby villages. Jesus rejected their proposal and suggested something they hadn’t thought of, “You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14: 16). Now, Jesus could have fed the crowd without anyone’s help. He could have taken the rocks at his feet and changed them into bread. He could have called down the angels from heaven’s kitchen to cater a buffet dinner. He could have said, “Let there be bread” and there would have been – good bread at that. Jesus made none of those choices, instead he invited his bewildered disciples to participate in God’s mighty act of providing food for the crowd. So the disciples formed a huddle, emptied their lunch pails and came up with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – barely enough for themselves and nowhere near what was needed for such a huge crowd. They went to Jesus to give him the bad news, perhaps anticipating he would now send the crowd away. Instead Jesus asked if they would give him what little food they had. They did so willingly, which was an act of faith. They didn’t know what Jesus was going to do with it, but they did know they had given up the little they had and may be going to bed with gurgling stomachs. Jesus took the bread, said the blessing and broke it. The bread was then passed from Jesus’ hands to the disciples to the crowd until, miraculously, every person there had enough to eat with some to spare. These actions reminds us of the Last Supper but we don’t know if this was Matthew’s intention. In both situations Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving and the breaking of the bread were simply a normal part of the Jewish ritual of table grace. The passage does, however, overshadow both God’s Kingdom and Christ’s cross.
The feeding of the 5000 is a picture of God’s providential care. God’s generosity and love fill us with awe. It’s miraculous. We aren’t told how this miracle took place – it may have been that through the disciples’ example of sharing their food others were inspired to share what they had. Which, given human nature, would be a miracle in itself. However, the gospel writers make a point of saying the crowd was in a deserted place and the people needed to go somewhere else to get food which implies the only way the food could have multiplied is by the power and will of God. Either way, what is true and important is that God used people to create this miracle.
It’s a mystery to me why God desires our participation. God doesn’t need us yet he prefers to partner with humanity to fulfill his purposes. He chooses to invite us to participate in creating the miracle which is his Kingdom, on earth as in heaven. My best guess is this comes from God’s parental nature. Every parent knows that a job will get done better and faster if they do it themselves, yet we encourage our children’s participation for a few reasons. We do it because a bond forms when people work together for a common goal; and because our children learn practical skills which they’ll use as they mature. It also helps them learn social skills – how to work with others, deal with frustration and see a job through to the end. When our children help fix a bike or fold laundry, they feel pride and ownership in what they’ve accomplished which builds confidence, gives hope and causes them to care for and preserve the what they have worked to develop. God welcomes our participation more for our sake than his.
Often when we hear that God requests our involvement, we react as the disciples did. “You want us to what? Participate? But I barely have anything to offer! My gifts are so minimal they’re useless.” God knows what we have to bring to the table and asks for it anyway. Jesus didn’t force the disciples to hand over their measly 5 loaves and 2 fish. They gave it to him willingly. God will work with whatever we have, no matter how small, if we offer it to him freely. But God doesn’t want just our gifts or our willing hearts, he asks for our full participation. After the disciples had given their offerings, Jesus didn’t send them away, he used them to pass out the food. The disciples became the link between Christ and the people. They were active in the unfolding of the miracle. They were Jesus hands and feet, his “boots on the ground” for good. God gives us the honour of being an active part of the unfolding of his realm. So we need to ask ourselves: How am I participating in God’s creating God’s world, God’s way? What, however insignificant, can I offer? How can I be a bridge to bring God’s grace and life to the crowd around me? How can I be involved? What else is God inviting me to do? And when we do decide to be co-workers in God’s labour of love, are we doing it willingly and cheerfully? Are we doing it in an ego-less spirit of love and co-operation? Do we do it with doubt and despair or do we do it anticipating a miracle?
After the disciples willingly gave their offering to Jesus, what did he do with their gift? First, he gave thanks for it. Because the disciples gave back to God what God had given them, Jesus thanked God for making their participation possible. Whatever service we offer is God-given and God deserves our worship. It also makes Christ happy when we recognize our gifts, offer them to him and use them as God calls us to do.
When we give our gifts to Jesus we often anticipate praise, “well done my good and faithful servant” or acknowledgement “I will put you in charge of many things” or maybe a reward, “enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). At very least we expect that Christ will handle our gift and soul with kid gloves. But notice what Jesus did: he took the bread, and broke it. Before we can be useful in God’s purposes, we too are broken. Sometimes we’re ripped to pieces. We are broken by the unexpected, harsh and seemingly unfair losses in our lives. We’re damaged by the abuse of others and the day in day out grind of life. We’re shattered by betrayal and broken dreams. We often view life’s cruelty as a curse from a hard-hearted God. We rail at the perceived injustice. We respond with anger. When we have something that’s broken, we throw it out. When we’re broken, we feel worthless especially to God. Yet, throughout the Bible God uses brokenness to further his kingdom. A crowd of over 5000 were fed by broken bread (vs.10); holy fire was revealed because of broken jars (Judges 7: 20); a broken will led to restoration and worship (Psalm 51: 17); and Jesus was anointed with oil from a broken bottle (Mark 14: 3). As we come to the Lord’s table we are asked to remember that God’s abundant love and saving grace is present and available because Jesus too was broken (1 Corinthians 11: 24). In our brokenness, we need to recall that God doesn’t allow something to happen to us from which he spared his only Son. Not only was Jesus broken, he was broken for us.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a sign of God’s overflowing love. After the 5000 feasted, ate their fill and maybe even over-indulged, 12 baskets of bread were gathered. At Christ’s table there is enough for all and then some. As we receive God’s gift of profuse grace and abundant life, we no longer toss God the left overs of our lives, we come to love the Lord our God with all our being and the only leftovers will be those that come from God’s lavish love.