“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
This coming Sunday's reading is about the famous story of the "feeding of the 5,000" from Matthew's Gospel. Most people have heard some version of this story:
The crowds following Jesus are hungry and have no food. Rather than sending them away, Jesus asks what food there is on hand. In the Sunday School version I was taught as a kid, a little boy has a basket with five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes the food, blesses it, breaks the bread, and gives it to them. He feeds all 5,000 people, plus there's twelve baskets left over. What a miracle!
But this telling of the story leaves out the most important part: the man, Jesus. Yes, it focuses on his ability to feed the multitude, but that misses the real point, which is who he is. It misses his character. He retreats for prayer and rest, but he's followed by the crowds. He could've easily tried to send them away, but he didn't, even when given the opportunity of the food.
This is a man who looks with compassion on the crowds, a compassion that pours out in his words and actions, in everything he does and all that he is.
These words stick in my mind: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
You give them something to eat.
I feel like these words are reverberating through time to us today. We're surrounded by communities that we live in, communities full of incredible hunger and need.
People are physically hungry. In Upper Darby there are tragic numbers of children who go to school hungry every day because they can't be fed at home, or they don't have a home in the first place and live wherever their parents can find for the night. We live within throwing distance of "food deserts" where fresh, nutritious food is scarce. We likely see people every day, likely without even noticing them, who regularly experience physical hunger because of scarcity in their lives.
People are spiritually hungry. We've been living in a pandemic now since March. People are starved for community and companionship. Some are starved for touch. Even before the pandemic, we live in a spiritually bankrupt culture that encourages detachment and scarcity because they drive the economy. The less attached you are to what you have and own, or the more you see yourself as not having enough, the more you'll look to buy the latest thing or fill the void by buying your way to happiness. Even in our churches there's very little true connection to our living master Jesus.
"You give them something to eat," Jesus calls to us now.
We stand in his place. We can look on the crowds around us with compassion, the love of God that is more than enough to feed all of these and more. We can give them something to eat.
"You give them something to eat."
How will you respond to his command today.