The people that Isaiah speaks to in this passage were a people whose lives lay in ruins.
They were exiled, defeated, almost forgotten. They were visitors in a strange land--
refugees living far from home.
The once proud children of Israel had been conquered and scattered by their enemies. They felt betrayed by the past and frightened of the future.
They were tempted by time and by distance and by all the little satans of comfort and convenience to forget who they were and where they came from. They struggled to remember God’s promise. Like all those who live in exile, they discovered that something more valuable than their homes had been destroyed. They discovered that something inside them had eroded away-- died-- long before their bodies knew enough to stop.
Although these men and women of Israel lived almost three thousand years ago, people just like them are all around us.
Haven’t you seen them?
--the mother rocking a child too hungry to cry
--the desperate father leading his family from somewhere bad to someplace worse
--the child dying of a disease she can’t even pronounce
--the family who will be homeless tonight
--the boy who has never heard the sound of peace.
into that desolation--
both then and now--
sounds a single word of invitation.
This message speaks to suffering that will suffer no more. It names a thirst that will finally be quenched. It identifies a hunger that promises to be filled.
This is the same invitation that Jesus extended to the tired and hungry people who followed him into the wilderness.
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Listen, that you may have life.
Come, eat and be satisfied, with food so abundant that even the left over fragments can feed a hungry crowd. This is the message of hope that God offers to everyone—even if we feel we are alone in the wilderness. This is the promise of life that God makes to each of us—even if we believe that something inside us has just about died.
These are wonderful words.
But along with the comfort comes a challenge. Attached to the promise is an obligation. Behind the truth lies a commitment.
Because it’s not really enough for Christians to gather every Sunday and repeat these words to each other— rubbing them for luck like a rabbit’s foot tucked deep in a pocket. It’s not enough for us look at one another and say, “God will feed the hungry, and the thirsty will find drink. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” It’s not enough for us to simply celebrate the stories of healing and remember the liberating word.
The paradox of the Christian message is that it comforts one, while challenging another. To those who are thirsty, God says, “Come, come to the water! Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” To those who are hungry, God says, “Take and eat.”
To those who suffer in bondage to addiction, or fear, or the brutality of war, God sends these words, “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”
But to those of us who have eaten, God says, “Give them something to eat”, “Give them some food yourselves.” When we are safe, God sends out into the world with the words, “As you go, make this proclamation: The kingdom of heaven is at hand! Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
To those of us who been set free, God says, “Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters, you do for me.”
Sometimes that task will seem too large, too complex, too hard for us to accept. On those days, that same word of invitation will sound for us in the wilderness: “Come! Come to the water!”
© Susan Fleming McGurgan
One of my favorite movies is Jesus of Nazareth – it was made for a television mini-series by Franco Zeffirelli back in 1977. We watch it year-after-year during Lent and each time it is as if we had never seen it before. It is exceptionally well done and very true to the gospels. The actor who plays Jesus looks is the very image of the Jesus we all have in our imaginations. The resemblance is remarkable.
The movie’s portrayal of the event in today’s Gospel, the feeding of the five thousand, is incredible. The scene opens with large numbers of people moving towards the spot where Jesus is. We see glimpses of all these people, many of them sick. The lame being carried, sick children in the arms, and on the backs, of their parents. And, so many others on stretchers – the old, the young, the infirmed of every kind. All moving with intensity and an urgency.
As the crowd approaches Jesus, there is a growing sense of quiet, even peace but also great anticipation. And there in the center of the crowd, is Jesus, seated on the ground in what appears to be reflection and prayer with his eyes closed. Then, in a matter of just a moment, the camera shifts to the apostles and there is this look of concern and even panic on their faces. What are they going to do with all these people (pause) . . . it’s getting late and there’s no food. Jesus responds to them without even opening his eyes. And they say, “How . . . there are thousands?” Jesus says not a word but raises his left hand in a blessing – his hand quivers. The apostles glance at one another in disbelief. And it is Peter who takes charge and tells the rest of the apostles “Go on, do as he says!”
We next see the near empty basket with the two fish at the bottom and as each person reaches into the basket another fish appears and eventually the basket is overflowing. And so it is with the barley loaves. The scene shifts to the faces of the apostles – what was once exasperation is now amazement and joy. Then there is this resounding cry from the crowd echoing in the background, “It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!”
So many of us American believers, who think of ourselves as scientific, contemporary and rationalists, are skeptical about this multiplication of loaves and fish. Some suggest that the miracle was nothing more than Jesus’ success in getting the people to share their personal provisions, the food they already had with them that they were simply hiding and hoarding. And while such sharing would be extraordinary it does not being to explain how so many could have had their fill with food to spare. The Gospel says 5,000 men; with women and children the number would be so much greater, maybe as many as 20,000. This is the only miracle that appears in all four gospels. And, scripture scholars tell us that this miracle really happened!
The setting of this miracle is important. Things didn’t turn out anything like Jesus expected. He had just learned about the death of John the Baptist – he was in mourning. He was trying to go off by himself, to grieve. There wasn’t supposed to be a crowd – they weren’t invited. But, it made little difference – wherever Jesus was, that’s where they wanted to be. And so many of them were looking for healing. Jesus put aside his own pain, his own needs and everything inside of him reacted to what he saw on the faces of the people. He just couldn’t look into the faces of human suffering and do nothing. He healed as many as he could but he was running out of daylight and no one was leaving. And the apostles wanted to do what so many of us would do in the same situation – send them away, send them home. What could they do with so many hungry people?
Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? The homeless, the unemployed, the mentally ill. “Send them away . . . send them anywhere but here, we can’t take care of them.”
When we find ourselves in situations of difficulty, when the need or the problem is so great that it simply overwhelms us, we can lose sight of God’s power and presence in our lives and become unaware and even unresponsive to the needs of others.
But Jesus says “No, no – don’t send them away. You, you, give them something to eat! You take care of their needs!” And the disciples respond with “We have nothing here!” They emphasize not what they have, but what they don’t have. They don’t see possibilities, they only see problems. Just like us. We’re always convinced that we have nothing to offer in the face of overwhelming need. There’s never enough resources; never enough time. The problem is too big – what can we do? Millions of starving people around the globe, countless homeless in our own neighborhood, so many going hungry. We don’t have enough and we have problems of our own. It is so easy to give up, so easy to despair.
Jesus says “Bring me what you have.” And he took what scarce there was and he multiplied it. And, in the silent uttering of a blessing, what wasn’t enough, becomes more than enough.
So, how much is enough? How much do we really have to have and . . . How much are we willing to share? In our culture, where worth and success are defined by how much we have, how much we own, answering that question is really tough. For me, it is one of the issues I struggle with the most. Even with all the economic woes and what’s happening with the stock market, maybe, maybe we still have more than we need. It’s a worrisome and even scary time for many of us. We feel suddenly poorer – retirements are being postponed, many are taking part time jobs and some are even being forced to downsize their homes. But, as we take a hard look at what we have, we count, more than ever, what is really important and perhaps we still find that we have a great deal; we still find we have some to share.
When we think we don’t have enough, when we count only five loaves and two fish, Jesus looks through our eyes and tells us to “Bring what gifts we have; bring them here to me.” He says. “I’ll bless them and multiply them.” Jesus shows us our giftedness even when it seems like there’s not much at all. He says, “There is enough – I’ll show you!” Just as he fed those twenty thousand people on that hillside, twenty centuries later, he feeds us. We bring what we have and bring it to the Lord. And, in return he feeds us, thousands upon thousands of hungry and needy followers. In every corner of the earth, in faith, in fear, Jesus feeds us, giving us what will truly satisfy us, his own body and blood