Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (NRSV)
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
I like to entertain. We have people over for meals fairly regularly, but the biggest gathering I ever hosted at our home was 45 people. My parents pretty much self-catered our pig-roast wedding reception for a couple hundred guests when Ed and I got married. My brothers roasted the pig, my mom and I made what seemed like a hundred dozen deviled eggs and I forget what all else. I have been to some bigger dinners that I didn’t have anything to do with planning. There’s usually around 350 people at the banquet at Synod Assembly. Maybe the biggest dinner I was ever to was one of my Team in Training inspiration dinners which possibly had around 500 runners and guests in attendance, but 5000? Never have I ever been to a dinner for that many! No matter the size of the crowd, however, the concern of every banquet planner: Will there be enough for everyone?
The disciples were sure there was not enough, but that was not a concern for Jesus. As the son of God and creator of all, Jesus has what he needs to feed all those people: compassion, faith and obedience. It is a powerful combination.
But let’s step back a minute. Throughout the Bible, a feast has been the symbol of God’s favor, God’s truth, God’s abundant mercy and grace. Psalm 23:5 is one example: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; (NRSV). In Psalm 1 is a poem that tells the reader how to use the scriptures, reminding the reader that the happiest people are the ones who meditate on the law/word of God night and day. The only thing is that the word translated as “meditate” is literally “chew”. So we are to chew on God’s word to get all the good stuff out of it to be properly filled with ‘shalom.’ Isaiah 55:2-3 is along that same line. We are called to listen and digest the rich food of God’s goodness:
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live. (NRSV)
There are lots more examples in the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus feeds people quite a lot. He uses feast stories in his parables. Think of the parable of the prodigal son, when a feast is prepared to welcome the wayward son home. Think of the wedding banquet where all get invited because the original invited guests won’t come.
In today’s gospel text, everyone ate and were filled. There is no record of anyone going away hungry or refusing to eat what Jesus had to offer. In the parable of the wedding feast, the people don’t come because they are too busy, they have other priorities. Jesus told that story because many refused to follow him. The Pharisees and Scribes were stuck in their old ways of thinking and couldn’t or wouldn’t give themselves to a new view of God.
This is the same concern Paul has in today’s text from Romans. He has spent the first 8 chapters of his letter laying out the wonderful freedom and peace that comes from living a life of faith in Jesus Christ and now in chapter 9 he laments that many don’t seize this opportunity. More specifically, he laments that his own countrymen, his own people, the people in his own faith family, don’t recognize God in Jesus’ teaching.
In verse 2 he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” (NRSV) He is talking about his people, the original chosen people. He sees very clearly the continuity between the ancient stories and the teachings of Jesus. Paul recognizes the connection between the covenants between God and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the law given to Moses, the promises of God’s presence among them always, and that the Messiah would come to rescue them and take them to the next level ARE ALL FULFILLED IN JESUS.
Paul knows he is not the only faithful follower of Jesus. He is writing to some of them in Rome! But he is feeling pretty lonely as he is writing. He wants everyone to believe and have the good news. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out of living the good, meaningful, hopeful existence that one can have when following Jesus. He wants everyone to eat Jesus’ words and be filled.
The Holy Spirit has touched Paul’s heart and filled it with this anguish for those who don’t believe; his brothers and sisters in the faith, first and foremost, but by extension, all who have ever had a practice of following God, attending worship, participating in the life of the church and now do not. You may know some of those. What would it take to invite them back to church? Start today to pray for the willingness and the opportunity to do so. Pray also for their desire to be back in touch with God to be awakened in them and that they be open to your invitation.
We would do well, also, to pray for those who are full of their own ideas and don’t have room for Jesus in them, for those who don’t realize their life is an empty shell about to break, for those who are self-satisfied and don’t realize what they are missing. Paul is lamenting for them all.
Maybe some of those people are us… maybe there are some sitting here this morning who don’t really know what happened to their fervor of yesteryear and are feeling empty, but not sure what to do about it. Maybe there are some in attendance today who are very content not to grow, who feel like their lives are complete and there isn’t really much more to learn or to do. Maybe there are some here today who are afraid of what might be required of them if they commit themselves to following Jesus ever more completely, afraid of where they might have to go, who they might have to encounter, what they might have to give up. If there are any of you that are feeling this in the pit of your stomach, or as a racing in your heart, or wherever else you feel tension growing, know that Paul is lamenting for you too.
Now is the time to renew your faith. Now is the time to pray for renewed vigor. Now is the time to do something new to spark your faith, to grow, to stretch, to get un-stuck. Now is the time to do the same for someone you know. Now is the time to eat Jesus’ words and be filled.
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.