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Caring for the Hungry
Mat. 14:13-21
HW in HI

It is the job of the Christian church to feed people. To feed people spiritually, but also physically. Jesus has called us to care for the hungry.

In today’s reading from Matthew, we come upon Jesus just after he has learned that Herod murdered John the Baptist at his (Herod’s) birthday party. John was one of the few people on earth that understood something about Jesus’ own call. John died for his faith, his head on a platter. Herod’s gift to an evil dancer. John the Baptist was the first Christian martyr. When Jesus heard about John’s murder, he wanted to be alone. He wanted to grieve. Many people prefer to grieve alone, and Jesus, it seems, was one. He took off in a boat.

But the crowd that followed Jesus did not understand. They followed him. They were hungry. Starving. Ravenous. They wanted God in their lives so desperately that they went by foot to the place where Jesus’ boat came to shore. It was a huge crowd. In those days they sometimes just counted men – they said there were 5,000 men. If Christians then were like they are now, there were likely more women then men, so the crowd numbered well over 10,000 adults, and with children could easily have topped 20,000 people. Something like everyone in Waimea and Waikaloa and Kawaihae and Kohala and maybe Honoka’a.

Jesus went about healing the people. Then when evening came the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away. The disciples were being reasonable. If they sent them away, they would have time to get to the villages for food. Imagine the whole of Kohala and maybe north Kona showing up here for food. Their needs could not be met. Many would go hungry. Jesus said no, that they would feed the crowds. Actually, he told the disciples: you give them something to eat.

Jesus showed the utmost compassion of God. He saw the crowds were hungry. They were hungry not only for food, but for something deeper. They were hungry for justice for John the Baptist, but not only this, but something deeper. They were hungry for a spiritual experience and the opening of their eyes to faith so that they might be able to live in the Kingdom of God.

The disciples told Jesus that there was nothing to eat, nothing but something for maybe one person, only two small fish and five loaves of bread. Very little. Very little indeed.

But the disciples brought the food to Jesus. He blessed it and they passed it among the people, and everyone was fed. In fact, there were leftovers.

This story of the fish and the loaves, the feeding of the multitudes, is in every Gospel in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This story was told by Jesus’ followers after his death, and eventually written down. Something rather close to this probably happened.

But it is exactly stories like these that ;lead so many of our friends to say: how can you believe that kind of drivel? What was Jesus – a magician? In my case, to be honest, they don’t say it to me, seeing as I wear a collar a lot of the time. What they say is something like: I see God in all of nature. Or: you must really have a lot of faith.

So it is good for us to ask ourselves: what went on? There are several possibilities: One is simply that God broke through. God did what God occaisionally does, and God broke through the regular limits of life, and did something quite wonderful, somehow expanding what was there. Another possibility is that the people began to share what they had, some putting the food they had brought into the baskets that were being passed around. Others took out food for themselves and their families. A third possibility is that something like eucharist happened. The people needed only a very little bit of bread, because it was infused with the presence of Christ.

There is a story told by John MacArthurs that rather illustrates the presence of God and the truth of miracles:

A king was seated in a garden, and one of his counselors was speaking of the wonderful works of God. "Show me a sign," said the king, "and I will believe." "Here are four acorns," said the counselor, "will you, Majesty, plant them in the ground, and then stoop down for a moment and look into this clear pool of water?" The king did so, "Now," said the other, "look up." The king looked up and saw four oak-trees where he had planted the acorns. "Wonderful!" he exclaimed, "this is indeed the work of God." "How long were you looking into the water?" asked the counselor. "Only a second," said the king. "Eighty years have passed as a second," said the other. The king looked at his garments; they were threadbare. He looked at his reflection in the water; he had become an old man. "There is no miracle here, then," he said angrily. "Yes," said the other, "it is God's work, whether he did it in one second or in eighty years."

When we consider the feeding of the multitudes, there are a few things that stand out. When the disciples perceived that the people had a need, Jesus told them to respond to it. He said, “You give them something to eat.” When the disciples found very little to work with, they took these resources to Jesus. Jesus blessed them. A little became a lot. However small the offering, it is enough to offer in thanksgiving to God.

God sometimes seems to work with very little. In fact, usually God works with very little. Surely Jesus had at his disposal the resources of Israel. The psalmist tells us of God saying he has no need for burnt sacrifices:

I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds. For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.

All belongs to God. Yet Jesus simply, ate simply. His great work was achieved with his own hands, his own words and the effort of those who followed him. There wasn’t a lot of wealth backing him up. But in some ways, he had the whole world. All that was God’s.

This is good news for us. At St. James’ we are trying to do a lot with very little. Right now we are working with our new youth minister to reach out to the teenagers that are part of St. James’, but also to reach out to those who never come here. There is very little money to back up this effort, just his own hands, his words, and the words and hands of those who help.

We are planning a new and very special program for our children. And we find ourselves in the very same situation: not much money, just our words and hands.

Joining us are the words and hands of our Lord. What will happen as we begin these efforts? We ask God to bless what little we have to work with. And we begin our ministry. Will our resources miraculously multiply? Will some people add what they can to the effort? Will we find we don’t need so very much after all?

We are moving into ministry that is beyond ourselves. Our work with teens and children will join our work with the thrift shop, reaching beyond the walls of St. James’ into the community. Reaching beyond our own families, to the greater family of God.

Will we be up to the task? Let us remember that God works with very little, even us. We have only to ask his blessing. Amen.