Summary: Jesus feeds five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Apostles are overwhelmed when Jesus directs them to feed the people in a remote area where no food is available.
8 Sunday after Pentecost
Have you noticed that it’s always the busy people who are more likely to accept additional responsibilities rather than those who have more time. And, why is it that poorer people are more likely to donate to charitable causes, sooner than rich people? It’s almost as if shortages like these actually produce surpluses. That’s what happened in our Gospel reading this morning.
For some people, facing difficult challenges can be a trying experience. For others, a stimulating experience that brings out the best in them. But that happens only if they have resources or skills appropriate for the challenge. Gifted musicians performing for an audience give one hundred and ten percent of their best. But, those who have never held a musical instrument in their hands wouldn’t even consider such a challenge. Instead of being inspired, they might be overwhelmed just to think about such a feat.
Jesus' disciples were overwhelming in our Gospel reading when Jesus asked them to feed the five thousand hungry people in a remote area, without food. The Apostles began to wonder how they could possibly feed such a multitude of people. With limited resources, their only solution was to urge the people to go to the nearest villages and buy the food there. But, Jesus said, No! "There is no need for them to disperse. You give them something to eat." The disciples had already considered that option, and knew that there were only five loaves of bread and two fish in their hands. There was barely enough food to feed a dozen people. Yet, Jesus expected them to feed thousands! If they took Jesus' command seriously, they would have felt extremely inadequate! They simply didn’t have the resources to accomplish such a task.
How often has life put us in similar situations that made us feel inadequate. We may in the future find ourselves facing problems so complex that, as smart as we think we are, we wouldn’t have a chance of solving them. Or we might be presented with needs so desperate or challenges so demanding that all the resources we might muster wouldn’t be enough. In such frustrating circumstances, the first thing to do is accept the fact that we simply can’t do it. To tell ourselves that we can is foolish, and it will keep us from finding a way of dealing with it. One of the reasons we sometimes feel inadequate is simply because we are. We are human, and we have limitations. In our Gospel lesson the disciples reacted appropriately to their situation. For mere humans, it was impossible. The challenge was gigantic, and their resources were too small and few. So, the first thing to do in such and overwhelming situation, is to see it for what it is. Being realistic is always a good way to begin. There is an old adage that says, "Life is hard by the yard. By the inch it's a cinch." It isn't a profound statement, and it is somewhat overstated. We know that life can be a cinch when we are sailing smoothly along. But then come the rapids. The easiness doesn’t last for very long before we encounter obstacles. Life is hard, and sometimes life is impossible. Just ask the Palestinians in Gaza.
Humans are not God. We are finite and limited. There are many things we don’t know and many things we can’t do. None of us here is qualified to be a nuclear physicist. Reality is bigger than we are. Life is a long and arduous journey. Each mile twists, turns, and may bring us circumstances beyond our control. We cannot begin to meet all the needs we encounter. We cannot even meet all of our own needs at times. As we matured, we discovered the importance of facing the truth about our limitations and about ourselves. Of course, we do need to believe in ourselves, to live with self-assurance and confidence. We don’t want to live our entire lives in fear. Still, it’s wise to accept our inadequacies.
This doesn’t mean we should dismiss challenging situations because we cannot meet them completely. We can think creatively and find something we can do to alleviate a bad situation. The fact that we cannot do everything doesn’t mean we can’t do anything! Jesus organized the disciples and the people, and gave them something to do. They still didn’t know how it would all turn out, but they trusted Jesus and the task was accomplished. That’s what we need to do as well. We can take our five pieces of bread and two fish and bring them to Christ.
There is a power in the universe that is beyond ourselves, and we can depend on it. Our bodies have a certain amount of physical energy. We use that energy every moment of our lives. But we also know that this is not all that’s available to us. We also have other sources of energy that we can depend upon. Food, water, and air – these are the sources of energy for our bodies. Electricity, oil and natural gas do things for us that we could never do with our own strength. So, if this is true in the physical world, why should it not be true in the spiritual realm? We don’t have to do everything alone. Spiritual power, or the power of God, whatever you want to call it, is always available. The apostle Paul once said it like this: "In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything."(Philippians 4:13) This was more than an empty boast. It was a testimony of someone who went through many challenges in his life and conquered them all. Paul knew that he couldn’t do it alone. He took his own five loaves and two fish and brought them to Christ. In Christ’s hands, they were enough and more than enough. "The people ate their fill, and what was left over filled twelve baskets." Our human situations will sometimes be overwhelming, but we can depend on the love and power of God to help us.