Give them some food yourselves

May 30, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

The gospel reading for today is Luke 9:10-17.

When the apostles returned, they explained to him what they had done. He took them and withdrew in private to a town called Bethsaida. The crowds, meanwhile, learned of this and followed him. He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.” They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.” Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of [about] fifty.” They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.

The disciples have just returned from preaching and curing people with great success and Jesus was eager to hear about their experiences and what they had learned. It was not to be; the needs of the crowd took precedence. As always, Jesus’ first concern were all those hungry for his teaching about the kingdom of God and their desperate need to be healed in body and soul.

This scene was the next opportunity for training his apostles. Jesus told them to feed people just as he would tell Peter after his resurrection to feed his sheep. First and foremost, they must learn to feed people, body and soul, before they attended to their own needs and desires. Jesus was teaching them about self-sacrifice, about loving others, and about relying on the providence of God to provide for His people. It was a lesson primarily about trust, which is really what faith is all about. I think that maybe that the real miracle here is the matter of trust in God’s providence, in His love and care.

It’s interesting to me that when the disciples ask Jesus to do something — dismiss the crowd so they can find food and shelter, he puts the responsibility back on them. Jesus had a way of forcing his disciples and listeners to think for themselves and to figure out their response to situations for themselves. What better way to learn. When I’m struggling with a problem, I can’t go to the gospels and find the precise answer I’m looking for from Jesus. Instead he gives me guiding principles from which I can figure out what to do. The same with prayer usually. He points me in the right direction, but he doesn’t plot my every step. Again, it’s a matter of trust, knowing in my heart the right thing to be doing and then taking the first step in faith with the certain knowledge that God will be with me, that He will provide whatever I need to do His will. Sometimes it seems like a miracle that I’m willing to trust him and take that first step in spite of all that tries to hold me back.

Some have taken this blessing of the loaves and fishes as a prefigurement of the institution of the eucharist. However, Barclay points out that every Jewish home spoke a blessing before meals. “Blessed art thou, Jehovah, our God, King of the world, who causest bread to come forth from the earth.” The eucharist is a bridge between the old and new covenant, continuity in the recognition of and gratitude for God’s generous and abiding love by His chosen people. A bridge between His faithfulness to His chosen people, the Jews, and His faithfulness to all people through all time, to you and me. Not only is God’s love for us sufficient, it is abundant as Luke conveys by the twelve baskets of leftover food. To receive His abundant love, I must first trust it. Then I will be satisfied.



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