In the beginning God populated the earth with healthy fruits, nuts, and green and yellow vegetables of all kinds, so man and woman would live long and healthy lives.
And Satan developed the fast food industry. And fast foods brought forth the 99 cent double cheeseburger. And Satan said to man, “You want fries with that?” And man said, “Supersize them.” And man gained pounds.
And God created the healthful yogurt, that woman might stay fit.
And Satan froze the yogurt, and he brought forth chocolate, nuts and brightly colored sprinkles to put on the yogurt. And woman gained pounds.
And God said, “try my crispy fresh salad.”
And Satan brought forth creamy dressings, bacon bits, and shredded cheese. And Woman gained pounds.
And God said, “Behold, I have sent you heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.”
And Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And man gained pounds and his bad cholesterol went through the roof.
And God brought forth running shoes, and man resolved to lose those extra pounds.
And Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so man would not have to toil to change channels between ESPN and ESPN2. And man gained pounds.
And God brought forth the potato, a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition.
And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep fried them. And he also created sour cream dip also. And man clutched his remote control and ate potato chips swaddled in cholesterol. And Satan saw and said, “this is good.” And man went into cardiac arrest.
God sighed, and created quadruple bypass surgery, angioplasties, and stents. And Satan created HMOs….
God loves to care and feed his people. For the next three weeks, the gospels show us Jesus feeding the crowds. We will be reminded how Jesus is the bread of life. From the very beginning in the Garden, God made sure to provide food for his people – then, when they were banished from the garden because of sin God continued to provide. God fed the people of Israel in the wilderness with a daily supply of manna- bread from heaven –and water, which flowed out of the rock which Moses struck with his staff, as God commanded him to. It is a theme that runs throughout scripture, even as David reminds us in Psalm 23, “You set a banquet before me.”
Jesus’ ministry lives out this theme of caring and feeding God’s people. Our gospel lesson today, the feeding of the 5000, is the only miracle that Jesus did that is recorded in all four gospels (Luke 9:10-18; Mark 6:40-44; Matt: 14:13-21; John 6:1:21). In our gospel lesson today from Mark, Jesus lays forth the pattern by which we are to live – the caring and feeding of God’s people.
After a long day of teaching and preaching Jesus faces a hungry crowd. This word for “compassion” is used in the New Testament only by or about Jesus. It suggests more than pity—it connotes actual help. Compassion is a choice. Compassion is rooted physically in our gut. It’s instinctive. A basic reaction.
At the beginning of our passage, Jesus first displays his compassion for his own weary disciples by realizing their own needs. They too were hungry and tired, just having returned from a mission assignment Jesus had given them. Jesus observed that “so many people were coming and going that they (the disciples) did note even have a chance to eat.” Jesus invites them to relax saying “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they get in a boat to go to a deserted place for some R & R.
But this attempt at solitude fails. The crowds are so needy and desperate that they hurry, they rush to get ahead. They are practically running to get to Jesus so that they could be there, waiting and ready, to meet Jesus when he arrived. Isn’t that something? This crowds from all these towns got there quicker on foot than Jesus and the disciples did by boat. Now I know of people who have gotten in line at 4am on Black Friday for Macys the day after Thanksgiving in order to get the best bargain. I’ve known people who’ve gotten up to be online at 5am for the first ipads and for the lastest iphone. I’ve known folks to camp out at 2am to buy concert tickets for rock stars, or for the latest trending movie. Can you imagine us making the effort to be first in line to meet a movie star? What if people lined up in the church parking lot in order to be first in line to get into the sanctuary, to get the best seat in God’s house? What a blessing it is to know our spiritual hunger for God.
Jesus sees the great crowds, all those who hurried on foot, and instead of being annoyed he is compassionate. Jesus sees the crowd, that they are scattered, confused, they are acting like sheep without a shepherd. So, Jesus rises above his tiredness and sees the people in their true circumstances. These people were oppressed; they searched for meaning, help, and purpose in their lives. Their spiritual diet was deficient. So, Jesus “began teaching them many things.” God loves to care and feed people.
So Jesus teaches and it becomes late. Think of the countless things Jesus had to say. It became an all-day retreat with Jesus there in this deserted place. But, Jesus was losing track of time, and it was getting dark. His disciples become anxious. “Hey Jesus, look at the hour,” they say in a not so subtle hint. “It’s deserted around here, no grocery stores within driving distance. It’s time to dismiss the crowd so they can go into the villages and take care of themselves.” The disciples are so tired, hungry and overwhelmed. They want to go home and get some sleep. It’s been a long, productive day, hasn’t it? It’s time to call it a day, isn’t’ it? It’s a reasonable request, isn’t it?
Then Jesus says the most shocking thing. “you give them something to eat.” You 12, tired, hungry, grumpy, people, you get directly involved. You look these people in the eye. You take care of them. You move out of your comfort zone. You find room in your heart. You go the extra mile. Because God loves to care and feed people.
Naturally the disciples protest. “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” Either the disciples have among themselves eight months’ worth of wages. Jesus takes in good stride. Jesus isn’t interested in the money. He goes straight for the food. “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” They oblige Jesus and report back. Five loaves and two fish. They could go better with the 200 denarii. But no matter. Jesus has the crowd, his restless sheep, arranged to sit in groups.
Now reminiscent of what has become the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus takes those loaves and two fish, looks to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves and gives to his disciples to distribute to all the counted men, which numbered 5000. And all ate and were filled, and there was plenty left over. Then and only then were the crowds dismissed. Jesus made sure the crowds were fed, body, mind and spirit. Because that what God loves to do: care and feed his people.
Mark’s gospel is an important reminder to us of Jesus’ words to us: “you give them something to eat.” Jesus doesn’t say: go ahead, dismiss the crowd who have come so far to fend for themselves. Jesus doesn’t say, when you feel adequate, confident, equipped, fully energized - then do something. No. The need is now, so you give them something to eat. This is the sign, the trademark of the disciple of Jesus. Compassion in action. So we love to care and feed God’s people.
We live in time of great paradox. Wouldn’t you say we are a well-fed people? So well-fed that our nation even has an epidemic with weight and obesity. Yet we know 49 million Americans, including 1.7 million New Yorkers, are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where they will get their next meal from. Or perhaps they have to choose to pay their rent, or gas, or a doctor’s bill. That number includes 16 million children. We know from our partners at the Long Island Council of Churches that the need for food has exploded. Yet the food is there, and Jesus says simply, you give them something to eat. Because God loves to care and feed his people.
We live in a time of great paradox. Despite our profound blessings, our country suffers from spiritual famine. We allow children to sit in cages, separated from their parents, and call that national safety. This past week, I was in St. Louis at a church conference. A group of us went to the old St. Louis Court House to pray. A site where hundreds of human beings were auctioned into slavery. A Court House where the case of Dred Scott began. Dred Scott a slave, who along with his wife Harriet, sued for their freedom in 1857. Although initially the courts ruled in their favor, the pro-slavery Supreme Court essentially overturned the ruling stating that they were property of white slave owners and therefore had not rights. The Dred Scott decision took on one big step closer to Civil War. It is a reminder to us of the power of the Supreme Court to set a moral or immoral course, for our country.
We know of this spiritual famine because as a people we lack unity and peace. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians and reminded them that Jesus is our peace; and in him, that dividing wall has been broken. In Jesus, the hostility among us has been done away with, because, Jesus creates in himself one new humanity, putting to death hostility on the cross. In Jesus t we are built together into a dwelling palace for God.
That dividing wall of hostility which Christ paid for with his blood to come down-- has been sadly rebuilt over and over, people of color still face discrimination, conflicts simmers everywhere along national or ethnic boundaries, migrants are still fleeing war torn homes in spite of the treacherous journeys and hostility they might face in their new home. We know we our list could go on and on of examples of racism of 10 black college students recently being marched back to IHOP as suspects who didn’t pay their bill; or for two black men were arrested at a Philly Starbucks just for waiting for their friend: and prejudice, greed that keep that dividing wall standing.
Our world is a no different place than the Palestine of the searching, desperate crowds that clamored after Jesus. Yes, we are tired of it all. Yes, we are afraid. We wonder, what can we do in the face of relentless evil? Yes, Evil seems to have a comeback for everything. Yes, evil never seems to get tired or concerned what time it is. We doubt, and sometimes we think we don’t have enough strength. But Jesus wasn’t fazed. He didn’t even bat an eye at the two hundred denarii. He just said: “what do you have? Go and see.”
It is the little acts that matter. You give them hope. You give them a meal tonight. You give them gas fare. You give them a smile. You give them a hug. You comfort a migrant child and reunite them with their family. You stand up and say racism is wrong. That’s the food Jesus brings.
What do you have? Go and see. That’s what Jesus wants each of us to take a hard look at today. Because our marching order are in. You give them something to eat. Because God loves to care for and feed God’s people.Because we have something the world needs. Because we can make a difference. Placed in the hands of Jesus, blessed and hallowed by Heaven, our efforts will become a feast, a feast for all God’s hungry people, a feast that in Jesus, there will be plenty left over. Amen.