I don’t know if I would ever say the word “but” to Jesus.
In our reading from Matthew 14:13-21 today, Jesus is in a deserted place. He left the highways and byways after learning that John the Baptist was beheaded during a feast by King Herod. Instead of responding to this violence inflicted on his cousin, Jesus retreats. Jesus, however, isn’t left alone for long. Word spread that he is in the area so people go out to meet him. Jesus finds an immense crowd looking for him. When he sees them looking for him, he stops retreating. He enters the crowd and heals the ones who are sick. Jesus is compassionate and full of love. As the day turns into evening, people start to get hungry. Instead of waiting for the crowd to become hangry (hungry + angry), the disciples asked Jesus to send everyone home. The disciples saw Jesus heal the sick but their imagination does not see Jesus dealing with their hunger. So the disciples, thinking about the crowds, invite them to take care of themselves.
Jesus, however, will have none of that. Instead, he invites the disciples to be as compassionate as he is and take care of the crowd. This is when the disciples use the word “but.” They claim they have nothing but five loaves and two fish. Five loaves and two fish are not nothing. The disciples do not think they have enough food to share. They are focused on feeding just themselves. They are blessed to have food but they lack the imagination to share it. Jesus then takes what they have and feeds everyone.
One of the unspoken ideas Jesus continually struggles against is the idea that there is only “so much” in the world. There is only so much love, so much kindness, so much food, so much housing, so many rights, so many opportunities, and so many other kinds of blessings in the world. Opportunities and material things are viewed as limited. Once we are receiving this blessing, we struggle to extend it to someone else. We are afraid that if we give it away, we will somehow lose that blessing for ourselves.
But Jesus invites us to see this blessings as opportunities to share the limitless love that God has. The text doesn’t claim that Jesus somehow multiplied the loaves and the fishes. Instead, he blesses what the disciples have and the disciples are empowered to feed everyone. The meal the crowd has is shared by everyone. The disciples, Jesus, and even the women and children eat their fill. Jesus is showing all of us that following him means taking what we have and sharing it abundantly.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 9th Sunday After Pentecost, 8/06/2017.