Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
Feed My Sheep
Mark 6:34-44, Matthew14:14-21, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:5-11
July 25, 2021
Last week, I talked about Jesus comparing the people to sheep, knowing that they needed a shepherd to help guide and protect them. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes on to teach them “many things” – leaving us guessing as to what those things were. I speculated about several possibilities, but who knows if I was anywhere close to being right…
Well, this weeks’ story seems pretty straight-forward and we think we know what this is about – it is about Jesus performing a miracle – feeding more than 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – with leftovers that filled 12 baskets!!! This is the only story of Jesus that is in all 4 gospels, and the accuracy of the reporting of it, as you heard in the 4 readings today, is pretty close. That’s surprising since these 4 gospels were written by 4 different people at 4 different times, in 4 different places. There was no Google or internet or telephones or newspapers to pass on the information. Mark was the first to write down Jesus’ story, written in about 60 CE. Then came Matthew, about 15 years after Mark, (in about the year 80-90 CE). Luke wrote next, about twenty-five years after Mark, (between 85 and 95), and finally John wrote his gospel between 90 and 100 CE.
During those days, word about Jesus was spread by story-telling by those who initially witnessed Jesus’s time on earth. So one would think that between when Mark wrote his Gospel and John wrote his – about 40 years later, that the story would have grown, at least in the size of the crowd. But, it didn’t!
So, that leads me to wonder why this story stayed the same. I wonder if it did not get exaggerated over time because it was so important in the ministry of Jesus. After all, it affected so many people all at once. Also, it showed the care that God has for our basic need for sustenance. This is purely speculation on my part, but there does seem to be something about this particular event in the life of Jesus that mattered almost more than any of his other miracles, especially since it is the only one repeated in all 4 gospels.
Most people seem to think that the miracle is that Jesus fed so many people, with so little. Well, that is one way to hear this story. Another way to hear it is that Jesus, in his usual way, is setting the example for those in power, reminding them that the people are more important than anything, and that it is of utmost importance to care for the people. Feeding people is one of the most important ways to show care and concern. Those in power were not caring for the people in general, and the people were, for the most part, in need, many begging, seeking ways to make enough to put food on their families’ table. The ones who had power and financial means had stored lots of food and they horded it in order to care for themselves and their families. The people had to fend for themselves.
In some of my reading about this story, several theologians suggest that this is a story about more than a miracle feeding. This is a story about Jesus trying to broaden our view of the world. They suggest that the people of Jesus time, and perhaps our time, see the world through eyes that only see scarcity and not abundance. Through Jesus feeding the 5,000+, he is demonstrating a gospel of abundance not a gospel of scarcity…abundant grace and love, and care and forgiveness. Further, some scholars offer the interpretation that Jesus, by not giving the leftovers to the people, did not want people to store up food like those in power. These scholars suggest that, like those with the financial means, when we have a storehouse of goods, we are less likely to go out and share them, because we want to make sure we have more than enough for ourselves, which is a natural reaction. They believe that when we work hard to store things up, we see the world through a lens of scarcity not abundance.
As I thought about this abundance mindset versus scarcity mindset, I wondered how many of us see the world through the lens of scarcity and how many of us see the world through the lens of abundance. This morning, I would like to challenge us to shift that lens to try seeing the world as a place where the more you give, the more you get. God does help us, but, because we are God’s hands and feet here on earth, it is really up to us to help each other.
I want to offer you two examples that might help us with this scarcity versus abundance idea. When I volunteered as a chaplain at Ground Zero after 9/11, I was stationed at what was called Respite Center 1. Chefs from area restaurants that could not open after the terrorist attack, came and cooked meals, 24/7, for the rescue and recovery workers and all of the volunteers. We ate some amazing meals, to be sure. But, what touched me so deeply was that there was always an abundance of food cooked by these chefs, who, on a normal day, would not have considered working with another chef who had a competing restaurant on the same block or in the same area. Instead, they were combining their skills to ensure that the meals that the workers were getting would help sustain them through the long hours they worked in the rubble.
These chefs were not able to be in their own restaurants, and so, they found a way to use their skills which moved them from a mindset of scarcity – they could not open their own restaurants – to abundance – offering their skills in a positive way – during a very difficult and hard time. They were providing not just food, but an abundance of grace, love and care. To be able to sit down to a good meal in the midst of the horrors that these workers were dealing with, provided them with respite and reminded them that they were being cared for and honored for the work that they were undertaking.
An example a little closer to home: except for last year during the pandemic, FCC has been a part of the Emergency Shelter Partnership, housing homeless people and providing them with meals during the cold winters. When this program started, people in the area worried because of the presence of homeless people in their neighborhood. But, over the years, people realized that they could make a difference in someone else’s life by providing a hot meal, and so they started lining up to help by providing food. But, there was more to it than serving them food. If you signed up for it, you could also prepare that food, greet these individuals when they arrived, talk with them and clean up the kitchen afterwards.
I remember cooking for our guests with our confirmation classes and their mentors. They would serve them food, some would get to practice their Spanish language skills and for some, it was a chance to cook a meal for the first time. We then cleaned up and if there was enough food left, we too would sit down and eat the food we had made. There was plenty left over for us, even though we didn’t plan for that. And, at the end of the evening, our youth always commented on how surprised they were that they felt so good helping others. We shared with our guests out of our abundance of Spirit and care and grace and love, and that amazing spirit also provided for us.
Jesus fed the 5000, showing those who were in power that caring for others is more important than caring only for yourself. This is a story about God’s work of feeding, of abundantly providing for our needs, and at the same time, demonstrating for us, and reminding us that we too, as God’s hands and feet here on earth, must remember to provide for the needs of others. The miracle, to me, is that it continues today because Jesus showed us that when we are willing to step out and be God’s hands and feet, we not only change the lives of those we care for, but we change our own lives as well.