Psalm 78:14-20, 23-25
The feeding of the multitude is the only miracle story of Jesus told in all four gospels. In Matthew’s telling, Jesus has been followed everywhere by large crowds. Jesus wanted some time alone with his disciples, so he took his disciples to a deserted place by boat. By the time they got to shore, a crowd was already waiting for him, and instead of the rest and quiet time he was looking for, he began to cure the sick. As evening fell, the crowd was still there and Jesus was still working. The disciples were hungry so they went to Jesus to ask him to let the crowd go so that they could go to the surrounding villages and find something to eat. But Jesus shocked them by saying, “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.” In Matthew’s gospel, the disciples had already figured out how much food they had among themselves—five loaves and two fish. Jesus asked them to give him their loaves and fish. He ordered the crowd to sit on the grass, and in front of the crowd, he blessed and broke the bread into pieces and gave it to his disciples, who gave it to the people. And the gospel says, “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.”
An amazing story. Let me tell you two modern miracle stories. Both are true. The first story is set in El Paso, Texas and across its border with Mexico, in the slums of Juarez. A postal worker in El Paso was part of a small group in his church. As an outreach ministry, his group decided to take a meal across the border to the people who lived in the slums of Juarez. Each member of the group brought nourishing food—there were sandwiches and fruit and someone brought a large ham. They packed the food in the back of a pick up truck and crossed the border. They headed for the garbage dump. That’s where the poorest of the poor scrounge for scraps of food and cast away items that might be sold. They passed shacks made of plywood and cardboard boxes. When they arrived at the dump they opened the back of the truck and set up their small feast. A few young scavengers came up to the truck and received a meal. Then a few more. And then the mounds of garbage came alive. For hours streams of people came to the little truck looking for food. Eventually the sandwiches ran out, but the ham never did. The postal worker watched in amazement as the food supply lasted much longer than it possibly could have. He had no explanation other than he had witnessed a miracle. When the last person had eaten, there was still ham left.
The members of that small group were so moved by the miracle that they had been part of that they began to make plans to meet other needs they had observed while serving the poorest of the poor. They arranged for a doctor in their church to go with them to the dump to set up a mini clinic out of the back of the pick up. Within a few short years, they had managed to set up a permanent clinic housed in a small building near the dump that served the poor of Juarez. The postal worker? He quit his job to help build and manage the clinic. Who in that small group would have believed where God would take them when they decided to feed the hungry?
The other story took place on a train in England during World War II. A teenager was riding in a crowded compartment with five strangers. His mother had given him a sandwich wrapped in a handkerchief for his lunch because rationing made food for travelers hard to come by. Noon came and he was hungry, but he didn’t want to eat his lunch in front of the other passengers. He decided to wait until they got out their lunches, but no one moved. An hour passed and then another. Finally, his stomach rumbling, he decided that he had no choice. He needed to eat, and so did the others sharing his compartment. He reached in his coat pocket and took out the handkerchief. He spread it on his lap and carefully broke his sandwich into six pieces while the other passengers watched in silence. Then he said a brief blessing and gave each passenger a part of his sandwich. Then everyone else reached into their pockets and bags and took out the food that they had brought—and not wanted to eat in front of others who might not have anything. The food was broken and shared around the compartment with a sense of feasting. Stories and laughter were shared along with the food. This teenager grew to be theologian William Barclay who wondered if on that hillside in Galilee, one boy sharing his lunch caused everyone else to share until all were satisfied.
So, Preacher, you might ask, which miracle was it on the hillside of Galilee: was it God expanding barley loaves and a couple of fish to feed five thousand, or people opening their bags and sharing what they had with them? And my answer would be an awed yes! Both! I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. I think God uses God’s abundance both ways. We don’t often see food that doesn’t diminish until all are fed, but we have faithful witnesses that that happens. More often, I think God counts on us to begin the sharing. A number of years ago at the Summer Institute for Liturgy and Worship, the final brunch was a catered event. All the ingredients for shrimp salad were arranged on long tables and we helped ourselves. 150 people ate and threw away what was left on their plates, but there was still so much left on the tables. I was on the board of the Summer Institute, and another board member and I gathered lettuce, cheese, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, bread, butter, salad dressing, and shrimp and loaded them precariously into my car. We missed closing worship so that we could deliver a sumptuous salad that could easily have fed fifty more to the First Avenue Service Center. Folks came out of the alley at the center to help us unload, thanking us for remembering them. While most of the Institute participants were singing and praying, the Institute was also feeding the poorest of the poor.
God cares about the whole of our being—body, spirit, mind, soul. And there is enough—more than enough for each person on the face of the earth to live abundantly. How can we begin the miracle of feeding multitudes? It begins with compassion and concern for the real needs of people and sharing what little we think we may have. God multiplies whatever we bring, whether it’s faith, love, money, talent, or food. God will make it more than enough. We so often look with fear at what we have left and try to preserve it as long as we can—that’s scarcity thinking. God can’t multiply our resources until we let go of them and offer them to God. We serve the God of abundance. So we need to develop abundance thinking.
God’s Grace abounds—it is abundant, more than enough. It cannot be depleted or diminished. How will you allow God to multiply your resources today?