What struck me this week about the story is that Jesus had compassion on the crowd that came to see him; an incredibly large crowd that has gathered “in a deserted place” to be with Jesus. The disciples become concerned that people will be hungry, and so they ask Jesus to send them on their way in order that they might have the time and ability to feed themselves and their families. Jesus realizes that the crowd is hungry… and he has compassion on them… and his compassion leads him to action. He doesn’t just feel sorry for them, he gives them what they need; he heals those who are sick, and he feeds them. He fulfills the prophets words, giving them food without price, giving them what they need to live.
What I find so wonderful about that, is that Jesus fulfills the very real, physical needs of the crowd; he doesn’t just tell them about the kingdom of God; he shows them what being part of the kingdom means; five loaves and two fish would not go very far in the empire; but in the kingdom of God, it is enough to feed 5,000 people.
I wonder what it was like to be there in the crowd. If I were there, and hungry, and all there was was five loaves and two fish, I would be worried; I wonder if people began to be afraid that there wouldn’t be enough for them, that Jesus would have to choose who got fed and who didn’t. But once again, Jesus shows that the kingdom of God is so different than what we can imagine. There is no reason for fear or competition; God’s love, like the loaves and fish expands so that all who are there are fed and loved; in the kingdom, we have all that we need because God’s love overflows; it never runs out; there is plenty of room and enough love for all. That is indeed good news for us… however, I think there is more for us to learn from in this miracle story.
If we believe that we are to do as Jesus does, then what does this story mean for us? I believe as followers of Jesus, it starts with compassion. Having compassion for the world that Jesus came to save isn’t some quiet, passive thing that we do; we don’t just pray for God’s people. As disciples, we have to find ways to put our prayers into tangible action. Pope Francis says it best: “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That’s how prayer works”. We see that in this story. Jesus went off to a quiet place to pray, as he does many times in the gospels, then he goes about in the crowd healing their sick and feeding them. His own prayer led him to action, and it is no different for us. I may not be able to feed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, but I can feed someone; and if you add your five loaves and two fish to mine, then we can feed more people than I can by myself. So maybe if we pray together, and truly pray, so that we are led to have compassion for God’s people, and that compassion leads us to action, we can join our prayers and our resources together so that we can do more together than we can alone. Being the church, means we start here together, to worship and be fed by Word and Sacrament, so that we might go from this place to help bring God’s kingdom to earth like it is in heaven. Discipleship is active; following Jesus requires that we do the things that Jesus has done, and continues to do in the lives of his people… the kinds of things that are kingdom actions, not empire actions.
This week I have watched various parts of the funeral service for Congressman John Lewis. I was incredibly moved to watch as a casson brought his flag draped casket across the Edmund Petus bridge in Selma, Alabama. I have listened to his friends speak about his life and indeed his ministry, as he fought with non violent actions to bring about equality for God’s people. I saw film clips of some of God’s people beat this incredible man bloody because they could not accept that John and other black people were equal in the sight of the law. Well, John knew he was equal because he knew he was a child of God; his rights as a person were given to him by a God that loved so much, that He created a world that John, and you and I are a part of; created by a God who loved that world so much that He came to live in it as one of us, in the life of Jesus. I am grateful for John’s witness as a disciple of a God who loved enough to die for the world he loved. I hope to never be called to that kind of discipleship, but it is exactly what we are all called to. May we all engage in John Lewis’ “good trouble” when we are confronted with an empire that refuses to let itself be converted to the kingdom. You just never know where two fish and five loaves might get you. Mixed with compassion, it could do a whole lot more than we might think.