August 3, 2014
Bread for the World is an interfaith hunger advocacy group. Each year, it puts out a hunger report. According to their 2014 Hunger Report, nearly 1.5 billion people in developing countries around the world live in extreme poverty—most on about a $1.00/day. Each year, 2.6 million children die as a result of hunger-related causes. In the United States, 14.5 percent of households struggle to put food on the table, and more than one in four American children are at risk of hunger. Worldwide more than 800 million people are suffering from hunger right now.
If statistics tend to make your mind go numb or all of those numbers somehow fail to make an impression, just know that this is true: food is important, and way too many people don’t have enough of it.
That’s why today’s Biblical texts about feasts rub so hard against reality. Clearly, from Isaiah’s time to Jesus—and to this very moment—we are to understand that God wants hungry people to be fed. And it’s not just these passages. The Bible talks about food A LOT! From the fruit trees the Garden of Eden, through manna in the wilderness, to the Lord’s Supper to heavenly banquet at the end of the Book of Revelation, the Bible is filled with talk about eating. When, where, what, how, how much, and with whom to eat are topics the Bible covers at length. Remember Jesus was often in trouble for eating and drinking with the wrong people.
What on earth do we do in the face of the terrible divide between God wanting everyone to be filled and the fact that so many people are not? It seems overwhelming doesn’t it? Does our tiny church offering make any difference on such a massive scale? Do our two dollars toward the Needy Fund, or two cans of soup in the food basket even begin to touch that crisis? Our inability to meet the vast, demoralizing need can make me feel inadequate, small. It almost makes me want to throw up my hands and ask, “Why do anything, in the face of such crushing data?”
For me the temptation is to run away, to make hunger someone else’s problem. And that’s not an uncommon reaction. When the disciples saw thousands of people (5000, not counting women and children—don’t you just love that?), their suggestion to Jesus is that he send everyone away to take care of themselves. But Jesus will have none of it. “YOU feed them,” he tells his disciples. And they, very reasonably, tell Jesus they are unprepared to address the magnitude of the need in front of them. Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook for a minute. Instead he suggests they start with what they have.
And miraculously, they do start there. This is the first miracle, in a stunning, miraculous story. That the disciples even attempt to address feeding the crowd is a sign of unusual and impressive happenings afoot. It is maybe a smaller miracle that Jesus is able to magnify the food. The greater act of faith here, it seems to me, is the disciples undertaking what appears to be a foolish and impossible task. But they do what Jesus asks. And there is enough. There are even leftovers.
I don’t know what happened that day. Maybe it was just that when people saw the disciples start to share what little they could scurry up, other people who were nearby offered their little loaf or two, inspiring their neighbors to say, “Well, here, I’ve got ONE sandwich I can add,” and so on. If half the people in the crowd tossed in bun here or a handful of grapes there, it might make a difference to the whole group. Maybe it was Stone Soup.
And maybe it didn’t happen that way at all. Maybe Jesus did some abracadabra over the loaves and fishes and transformed the five loaves into five thousand. I have no idea. What I do know is that the disciples offered all that they had. And Jesus thanked God and made it work.
Does the formula of the actions sound familiar? Jesus had compassion, took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and offered it to the people to eat. We remember just such actions every week here at our little table. And we remember that Jesus told us to do exactly that, in remembrance of him. To an outsider, it probably doesn’t appear that much is happening in communion. But we trust that God is at work in secret, hidden ways, in, with, and under ordinary elements and ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.
What I like best about the feast Matthew describes is everyone eats and there are even left over “broken pieces” which are not lost, but gathered up. I find that so hopeful! Even when we feel like all we are and all we have are crumbs, Jesus takes care to address us in our need, our hunger, and even the seemingly odd, loose pieces are not lost but carefully gathered up.
And where do those pieces go? I wonder what to make of the fact that there are 12 baskets of leftovers—exactly enough for 12 disciples to deal with. Who eats the leftovers? Do the disciples keep them? Do they send them home with someone else? Do they quote today’s passage from Isaiah out loud to the crowd: “You who have no money, come, buy, and eat,” offering bread to anyone who turns up to claim it? In any case, it’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t let crumbs go unnoticed. Nor should we.
What are you holding in your hand today? How much? How little? Even if you can’t imagine how it could help, you are encouraged to present your crumbs to Jesus for the benefit of the whole group. Don’t worry about how little you feel or how little you have. It is what you have been given, and Jesus can work with that!
Perhaps that is how to begin facing the issue of world hunger. We don’t have to feed the world, nor the nation. What we DO have to do is offer what we’ve got. ALL we are and all that we have. And that starts the ball rolling. Maybe your contribution of loaves and fish could include spending five minutes of your time writing to or calling your representatives or senators, urging them to create jobs and pay people a living wage to do them. Maybe it involves volunteering for a few hours at a local soup kitchen or day care or pantry. Or maybe you can give five more dollars toward our needy fund, or five extra cans of green beans to a food pantry, or encouraging five people who work hard at agencies like Bread for the World. Maybe your gift is to thank those make our community a livable place for all.
Maybe none of this is not what your five loaves are. Maybe you have a very clear sense of what you have to offer to a hungry nation, a hungry world. Maybe you have a clear sense of what we, collectively, as Trinity Lutheran Church can do to address hunger and need. Please let us hear about those options. Open our eyes to what it is we are holding in our hands. Act as Christ to us and urge us to offer what we have. Let’s not focus on how meager it seems; let’s just do as we are asked. Let us offer everything to Jesus, trusting that in his compassion, he will bless our loaves and fishes and miraculously there will be enough and more than enough.