Sunday, August 3, 2008
God can do an awful lot with very little...
Sometimes, we can look around us at what other Christians are doing and then get a bit despondent. We look at people whom God is using in lots of different ways, these people have heaps of energy and enthusiasm, they are more intelligent and even better looking than we are. In short we think that they have more gifts, more talents, more abilities – they are like giants in God’s Kingdom. Then we have an introspective look at ourselves. We can’t think of a great deal that God could use us for, after all, we’re not good at anything much, ‘What could God possibly do with me – surely I am one of the very least effective people he has in His army of followers, a mere foot soldier…?’
One of the very special and important things that we learn (or are reminded about) the Lord Jesus from today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 14:13-21), is this: God can do an awful lot with very little indeed. With just a few scraps of bread he can feed thousands so let us understand that with a few scraps of our faith, our time and commitment, the sky is the limit.
Jesus had just heard the sad news of the death of his friend, John the Baptist and along with the disciples He intended to withdraw to a quiet place to reflect and pray. But somehow word got out and as the Lord and the disciples were making their way across to the other side of the Lake, crowds of people walked from the villages in the region, following them around the shoreline to the other side. These people were really impressed by what they had heard and seen of Jesus’ stories, teachings and miracles – they were hungry for more.
You know the times when you are really tired, you just want to rest, to get away from all the busyness and hassle and noise? It’s great to go for a quiet walk along the beach or sit out in the garden with a cool drink and just relax. So often though there are interruptions, whether it’s the phone ringing, someone at the door or a hungry child wanting to be fed! Jesus could have looked at the crowd and buried his face in his hands in despair. He could have stood up and said: “Look, me and the guys here are just wrecked and we seriously need some down time O.K.?!” But He didn’t do that; verse 14 tells us what He did:
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Even though he needed and wanted a rest, the needs of the people, sick, hungry for knowledge (and later physically hungry) meant far more to Him than His own need for a rest. The thing that we may find uncomfortable is that in doing this, Jesus is providing an example for His disciples both then, and you and me today to follow. Yes we all need a break, it’s vital that we relax, but when others need us to be there for them we must look after them first.
There was no let up as the evening approached so the disciples came up to Jesus to tell Him to send the people away so that everyone could get something to eat. Of course Jesus knew what He was going to do and what would happen all along (see John 6:6). It’s amazing isn’t it that the disciples were at a loss as to what to do and how to deal with the situation. They had seen Jesus perform numerous miracles and yet it did not occur to them that Jesus might have a miraculous solution to this problem too!
The Lord plays a bit of a game with the disciples, He says: You give them something to eat. This must have baffled the disciples even more. How could they with their very meagre and limited resources give all these thousands of people something to eat?!
Jesus wants to teach the disciples something about the importance of responsibility. They are always wanting the people who come to Jesus to go away. Here they want to dismiss the crowds, later they want to send the Syrophoenician woman away (15:23), they even get cross with the parents bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing in chapter 19. Jesus wants to remind them that trying to get rid of people in need is not the solution. This is not God’s way.
My natural instinct is to pretend I never heard or read that sentence because it raises an awkward and unavoidable question: How many different ways and means do I employ to try and get rid of people in need? How many cries for help do I turn a deaf ear to? How many outstretched emaciated hands do I shut my eyes to? How many shuffles of little footsteps do I turn and flee from? Oh yes I have my excuses, only so much I can do, limited resources etc., etc. But as we shall see, there are no excuses, Jesus doesn’t want us to change the world on our own, He just wants us to offer Him what we have to give, no matter how small or insignificant that may seem to us.
So the disciples answer Jesus:
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”.
Does Jesus say “Is that all you’ve got?” No, He says “bring them here to me…” He directs everyone to sit down on the grass and taking the five loaves and two small fish He looks up to heaven, gives thanks and breaks the loaves. It was Jewish custom to thank God before starting a meal, one that rightly is continued in many Christian households today.
Both astonishing and intriguing is the miracle that takes place – we are not told the mechanics of how the bread and fish multiplied, just that it did. There is more than enough to go around the large crowd. All the people ate and were satisfied – in fact there was more than they could eat because the disciples picked up twelve basket full’s of broken bread pieces afterwards. To emphasize the greatness of the miracle, we are now told the size of the crowd, five thousand men, not counting the women and children.
Clearly we are left with the important connection between Jesus as the One who feeds us both physically and spiritually. Also, we think of the manna given to the people of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 16) and how this was always meant to reside in the psyche of the Jewish mind, pointing them towards the Messiah who would be for them truly the “Bread of Life” (John 6:32-35).
Do you ever feel out of your depth in a situation? I can think of times when I have let God down by not doing what I should in a situation, either by failing to say something or failing to do something. One time years ago I was walking from where I worked to catch the train home when a lady dressed in little more than rags came up to me and asked me for some money. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know whether she was genuine or not - she certainly looked like she could do with some help. It was the end of the month and I had very little money after paying the rent and the bills, I had just £5 in my wallet. I hated the thought of my little bit of money being taken from me and then just being wasted – I wanted to get my money’s worth! So I told her to follow me and we went round the corner to the nearest Supermarket. With that £5 we were able to get all sorts of bargains and nearly a basketful of food. Those of you that know me know just how shy I am but on this occasion I actually enjoyed all the other shoppers staring at this guy in a suit leading around a lady dressed in ragged clothing. The girl at the checkout didn’t even look up but I was able to hand the woman two bags of shopping – she gave me a strange quizzical look - I wanted to say how I had done it because I wanted her to know that God cares about her and her family, I wanted to share the gospel message, I wanted God to do something, but all I could manage as she walked away was an embarrassed “God bless you!”
But I think God was able to do something with my meagre £5 even though I wished I had more to give. How many times do we not bother because we think that what we do won’t make a difference? How often do we wish God would use someone else – someone more talented, more skilful, and more generous or someone with more money or more time? But God doesn’t do that, He uses you and He uses me. God can use your inadequacies and mine and work mighty miracles through them.
Implied in the story is this question: Have we surrendered our five loaves and two fish to Christ? Have we surrendered the meagreness of who we are to Christ? I think we would be amazed at what mighty miracles God can do with our meagre self when we have surrendered who we are to Christ. The question is persistent when the memory of this story lingers on: “Have we surrendered to Christ, have we really?”
Sources of Help:
1. New Testament Commentary, Matthew, William Hendriksen, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh 1979.