3 Aug 2014
“‘There is no need for them to go away. Give them some food yourselves.’” (Matt. 14:16)
In the name …
Little things matter. We were up in southern Maine on Tuesday and Wednesday. I enjoy walking the Marginal Way in Ogunquit and watching the surf crash up against the rocks. Those rocks are so large and so strong, and yet each wave has the potential to change things just a little bit. Eventually those waves will wear the rocks down. Eventually each little bit of change brought about by each wave is going to win the battle against those enormous, impressive rocks. Little things matter.
That’s what Jesus’ message is about today. Our parish, for example, is gearing up to feed some 400 people at this year’s Chicken Barbecue, and for anyone who is involved in that project, you know how much work it entails. You know how much preparation goes into feeding 400 people. You know how many people have to come together to do their part to feed 400 people. So imagine instead that we are one of the few followers of Jesus. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has just learned about the death of His old teacher, John the Baptist, and some of Jesus’ disciples used to be disciples of John. When they hear this news, Jesus and the disciples try to sneak away for a time of private grieving. They board a boat and sail across the Sea of Galilee to a place the Bible describes as deserted. They’re exhausted when they reach their destination and all they are looking for is a little bit of peace and quiet.
They reach the opposite shore and already, somehow, a large crowd has gathered in anticipation of their arrival. We’re told that there are 5,000 men in this crowd. When you add the women and children, we could be talking about 15 or even 20,000 people. I think there’s probably some biblical hyperbole going on here, but even so, this is one vast sea of people. And for these people to have arrived before Jesus they must have left their homes with little or no preparation. They must have left as soon as they heard that Jesus had departed by boat.
So we have an exhausted and grieving Jesus with His few disciples, and now we have thousands of people with no provisions, and they’re all together out in this unnamed deserted place. Jesus does what Jesus always does. He forgets immediately about His own needs and He begins to care for the people in the crowd. As daylight fades, the disciples are wondering how much longer Jesus is planning to keep this up. They tap Jesus on the shoulder and whisper in His ear that maybe it would be a good idea to send these people back where they came from because no one had made provisions to feed such a large gathering. We work for months to prepare to feed 400 people at the barbecue. The disciples are looking at thousands and thousands of people and they have prepared nothing.
When Jesus gets that tap on the shoulder from His very flustered disciples, He remains calm. Why shouldn’t He? According to the Bible, Jesus isn’t talking to this vast crowd. He is moving through their ranks and healing the sick. Miracles abound that day. The miracle of feeding them wouldn’t seem too strange in this context. But that’s not exactly what Jesus does. I think we need to realize that this crowd has grown accustomed to Jesus’ miracles. I think the disciples have grown accustomed to Jesus’ miracles. They seem to be of the mind-set to just let Jesus handle it. With this notion floating around in the story, Jesus instead basically says to them, “Do something yourselves.” And I think this is one of the most important lessons in the story of the miraculous feeding. It’s not: “Do it by yourselves.” Jesus is there. Jesus is the one who commands the crowds to gather around Him. But there’s the unmistakable message that it won’t be only Jesus. The disciples and everyone else in that crowd have also to do their part.
Now while I love watching the waves hit the rocks up in Maine, I also love to sit on the beach and read the newspaper. And as I was sitting up there in Maine with my sunblock on and underneath a beach umbrella with my black pants rolled up just a bit over my black socks and shoes, I was reading about Dorothy Boorse who is a science professor at Gordon College, Gordon College being an evangelical Christian college. She is trying to convince her fellow evangelicals that climate change is a moral issue. Her creation-care theology is based on God’s command to Adam and Eve to be stewards not owners of creation, and since global warming is threatening the undeveloped world much more drastically than the developed she sees her fight as part of Jesus’ command that Christians show care to “the least of these” as a sign of their devotion to Him. Some evangelicals are opposed to counter-measures to global warming because they see the fate of the world as solely in the hands of God. What will happen has already been determined by God and it is useless for people to try and work against that plan, they would say. To these kinds of thinkers and believers, in this case and in all sorts of others as well, I believe Jesus would say again, “Do something yourselves.”
It’s a blessing to be able to trust in the help of Jesus, but that’s not an excuse to push everything off on Jesus. We are called upon to work with Jesus as a sign of our trust in Him. That can be something as big as creation-care and trying to help the world’s environment or something as local as donating to the Food Bank. It can be something parochial to help Holy Name as we try to do the work of Christ or it can be volunteering in the community or with a charity. But it can’t be expecting Jesus to do it all and by Himself. So let us find the conviction to help God care for this world and her people by remembering that Jesus’ words today are not uttered in exasperation but rather in encouragement. Jesus knows that each of us, even if only a little bit at a time, can make a difference for the good. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo