Pastor Michael Frye:
This morning I am going to address an aspect of today’s Gospel lesson that gets little attention in sermons.
An event leading up to Jesus’ feeding more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish gives us an amazing picture of both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity.
The Gospel started off with the words: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
What did Jesus hear that caused him to withdraw across the lake from the crowd in order to be by himself?
Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, had just been murdered by King Herod.
John’s disciples had buried his body and went immediately to tell Jesus what had happened.
You can imagine how this news must have affected Jesus.
We don’t really know how well John and Jesus knew each other, but we do know that their mothers had been close as young women and probably remained that way.
We also know that John had been given the task by God to be Jesus’ Elijah, the one whom scriptures foretold would announce the arrival of the Messiah into the world.
Being fully human, as well as being fully divine, this earth-shattering news had to be devastating for Jesus.
As important as his ministry was to the Jews, Jesus had to withdraw in order to grieve the loss of his cousin, as well as to pray on John’s behalf to his Father in Heaven.
But the great crowd that had come to hear Jesus preach and to be healed by him had no clue as to why Jesus suddenly got into a boat and headed eight miles across the lake to the other side.
If you have ever rowed a boat, you will know that rowing eight miles is no easy task, even for several strong fishermen.
This took some time; so the determined crowd headed around the lake, and a number of them actually arrived in time to greet Jesus on the other side.
In spite of his own grief and his desperate need to go off to himself to pray, Jesus had compassion for them, and his servant heart took over as he cured their illnesses and gave them his undivided attention.
Jesus had every right to send them away.
He had to be exhausted and emotionally spent after such a long day, but seeing the great needs of the crowd there before him gave Jesus the strength and desire to meet their needs.
As evening approached, Jesus had completed his task of healing and comforting those in the crowd who needed him; but, instead of sending them away, he recognized their need for food.
Instead of sending them to the surrounding towns, as his disciples suggested, Jesus now turned to them and challenged them to help in solving the problem.
He sent them to find what they could, and when they brought back the meager amount of food that they could find, he blessed the bread and fish, most probably using the table blessing that Jews were used to praying at meals:
“Blessed are you, Jehovah our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
In this way, Jesus demonstrated that it is God’s gifts which he was bestowing upon them to share with the masses of people.
Jesus gave to the disciples, and they gave to the people, over and over again until everyone had their fill.
And this is the great truth that confronts you and me today.
Jesus gives us the task of serving the masses of people who have come to him for healing and compassionate care.
It goes far beyond feeding the hungry (which is in and of itself one of the important tasks that God gives us); it also has to do with Jesus’ needing his disciples to be his hands and feet and voices in a world that is crying for God’s love and mercy.
Jesus serves through his Church through you and me.
However, there is so much work to do, so many to serve, that it seems to be an almost insurmountable task.
We in the church could easily become discouraged and feel totally overwhelmed.
But it is precisely at this point, both in the Gospel lesson and in our own lives today, that Jesus takes whatever we have to offer (whether it is loaves and fish, or a meager budget, or a small band of willing volunteers), and he performs his miracles over and over and over again.
God’s gifts and our wise use of those gifts are what is needed in our world today.
Like Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel this morning, we can become overwhelmed with our own burdens and sorrows to the point of our wanting to withdraw from it all.
And, yes, we all do need our times for vacations, rest, and relaxations.
A time to recharge so we can be refreshed and ready for the next challenge.
But the words of Jesus to Peter and his disciples, as he was preparing to leave them and return to his Father in Heaven, should also ring in our ears to remind us to return to the task of serving:
“If you love me, feed my sheep.”
Just as Jesus provided the miracle that allowed the disciples to feed, not only the five thousand men that are mentioned, but also the women and children who were with them–he provides us with the miraculous power to minister boldly, sometimes without knowing where the resources and energy will come from.
All we have to do is take what he gives us and believe that it will be enough, with plenty to spare.
When Jesus came to earth in human form, he came with access to the full range of emotions that can be accessed by all of us: joy, sorrow, hope, despair, anger, loneliness, doubt, compassion.
With all of these emotions and feelings churning within, Jesus has shown us that through prayer, and by putting our faith and trust in our Heavenly Father, we can be instruments through which miracles occur every day.
Of course, there are days when we don’t feel like showing compassion and love to others–we may want to just be by ourselves and shut out the rest of the world, even for a short period of time.
And we all need those times of solitude and self-care.
Then, there are those times when God calls us to extend care and concern to others, even though it may be an inconvenience to us and to our schedules.
We only have to remember how Jesus responded in such situations (disturbed prayers, interrupted meals, disrupted visits with prominent religious leaders).
When it came to showing compassion and love to other human beings, Jesus knew that the way he responded in those situations could affect how those individuals lived the rest of their lives, especially their relationship with God.
Even as he died on the cross, he looked compassionately upon those who were screaming insults and obscenities at him, and he prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
So, Jesus’ parting mandate to Peter and to all who follow him today, of “feed my sheep” takes on a new perspective when we think of feeding as going far beyond the physical sharing of food.
It also has to do feeding the minds, hearts, and souls of one another with the Spiritual food that only God can provide.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, your Holy Spirit equips us with a rich variety of gifts.
Grant that we may use them to bear witness to Christ in lives that are built on faith and love.
Make us ready to live the gospel and eager to do your will.
In Christ’s name, and for His sake.