Moved by Compassion

Our Gospel story today is found in all four Gospels. In fact, it’s the only miracle story found in all four Gospels ff you grew up going to Sunday School you probably know this story.  It three out of the four Gospels it takes place it follows a traumatic and gruesome experience. John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod and his head is served on a platter to his wife.  This experience turns up the anxiety in an already tense society.  It puts people on alert that Herod and the Roman empire doesn’t mess around with prophets and pests.  Jesus hears this news, and he chooses to get away, clear his mind, take some time maybe to grieve, to think.  But that doesn’t happen.  Instead, a huge crowd of over 5000 people, I say over 5000 because only the men were counted. Many Bible scholars believe the actual number fed that day could have been 15,000—20,000 people.

The hour is getting late, and the people aren’t departing, and the disciples get anxious and go to Jesus and advise Jesus for him to tell them to head on home.  Jesus looks out to the crowd and instead of feeling anxious and overwhelmed, he feels compassion and then he directs the disciples to do something. He says, “you give them something to eat.”

By some miracle the food that they have keeps multiplying so that everyone has enough and there is food left over.  Now if you were Jewish, and many of the people there that day were, they would know this was not the first time this miracle took place.  Elisha performed the same miracle, except instead of feeding 5000 he fed 100. If you were Jewish, you would also remember Moses and that it was in the wilderness where Manna came from heaven and fed the Israelites.  If  you were Jewish you would remember the Prophet Isiah’s prophetic voice share your bread with the hungry.  For the people on the mountain this is more than a free meal, this is a religious experience in which they see experience the stories of the past come to life in the present.  They experience the promises of old foretold in the present.  They experience the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Instead of having the horrible images of the banquet of King Herod in their mind, they experience a miracle of a great feast.  Jesus transforms the narrative.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.  It takes the brutality of the world and imagines something all together different.  It takes the cruelty of the world and replaces it with compassion.  It takes the scarcity of the world and replaces it with abundance.  It takes the negativity of can’t and replaces it with you must.

For the past two Sundays we have heard Jesus talk about what the kingdom of heaven is like, today he shows through the miracle of feeding the 5000 what the kingdom of heaven is like.

I think we, and by we, and mean the church, those who say we are Christian, do not always have the same the mind of Jesus Christ.  I think we often look out and the masses of society and don’t have compassion, but rather feel overwhelmed and helpless by all the hungry people and all their needs.  It just doesn’t seem practical to feed so many people.  Moreover, there are so many Herods out there, sitting in castles, seemingly untouched and unfettered by the masses of people who are suffering.

Just this past week Russia bombed grain stores in Ukraine and pulled out of a deal that had allowed safe passage of food exports through the Black Sea. Ukraine is a major exporter of grains, and the deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last year, kept people fed all over the world. The International Rescue Committee called the initiative a “lifeline for the 79 countries and 349 million people on the front line of food insecurity.”

In the world today, 37.9 million people live in poverty, 11,9% of those people live in the United States.  That’s a lot of people.  How much food do you have in your pantry?  Probably not enough to feed the world.

Jesus says to the disciples what he says to us: “Bring what you have to me. Give it over to me and let me bless it.” When we give whatever to Jesus it no longer is under our control. This is key. When we give whatever situation, crisis or social problem to Jesus, it is no longer in our control. It’s in God’s hands.  You have to give it over and trust.

So, Jesus breaks the bread and blesses it—sounds a lot like communion—and gives it back to the disciples and tells them to give it to the crowd. 

 Once you give something to God, God may control the outcome, but you have to do the work. Jesus did not make bread drop out of the heavens. He blessed the bread and gave it back to the disciples and told them to feed the people. Everyone in the crowd is fed and there are twelve baskets of food left over—enough for each disciple to have one. 

The miracle isn’t the food. The miracle is that crowds experienced the transformative power of Christ’s presence. As the disciples distributed the food, no one feared there wouldn’t be enough, and so they didn’t think of themselves and their own needs. The miracle is that humankind is transformed into human kindness.

That’s what Jesus does.  That’s what we do when we give over what we have, trust that God will bless it and then go out and do something with it.

When we allow God to work through us in generosity and hospitality, miracles happen.

When you allow God to work through you, you change. You are transformed. When you allow God to work through you, you commit your life to God’s cause, not yours. You open the doors of your soul to a liberating, transforming love that overcomes all sorrow and brings you an inner peace and joy that passes all understanding. But we put up all sorts of obstacles in God’s way—our pride, our fears, our love of self and, as we see in today’s scripture, our lack of faith.

In the Bible, faith is not something you have, but something you practice. Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners puts it this way:

You have to put [faith] into action or it really doesn’t mean anything. Faith changes things. It’s the energy of transformation, both for individuals and society.

 I came across this song by Stevie Wonder in which he sang:

They say that heaven is ten zillion light years away

But if there is a God, we need Him now

“Where is your God”

That’s what my friends ask me

And I say it’s taken Him so long

Cause we’ve got so far to come…

But in my heart I can feel it,

Feel His spirit……

Let God’s love shine within to save our evil souls

For those who don’t believe will never see the light

“Where is my God” – He lives inside of me

And I say it’s taken Him so long

Cause we’ve got so far to come…

If you open your heart you can feel it

Feel His spirit,

Feel it, feel His spirit, wow oh wow…

I opened my heart one morning And I sho enough could feel it,

Feel His spirit

You can feel it, yeah, feel His spirit You can feel it, yeah, feel His spirit

We have everything we need to be generous.  We have everything we need to be hospitable.  We have everything we need; we just need to have the faith to go and do.  There will be more than enough of that love and grace and hope to go around – with leftovers besides.


Rev. Dr. Shelly White Wood

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