by Jim Chipps
Mark 6:30-44 Feeding of 5000 (Parallels Mt 14:13-32 RCL Prop 13A)
The disciples were dog tired. They had been sent off by Jesus--two by two--to learn how
to do ministry. Preach, teach, heal, cast out demons. It was trial and error work.
Marks gospel reports that they were pretty good at it, but Im inclined to
think he exaggerated. Any of you who have engaged in any kind of ministry know it
doesnt work out that way.
The people you think you are helping are ungrateful. The task you tried to do gets
criticized by someone who wouldnt think of doing it herself. The people you lined up
to help never show up. The sick people you visited and prayed for died anyway. Or the ones
youd meant to visit died before you could get there. Real ministry is very humbling.
We still train ordained ministers the way Jesus did: throw them into the water and see
if they can swim. When I was in seminary I worked 11 weeks as a chaplain in a mental
hospital in Baltimore. I had three wards--150 people--of geriatric psychiatric patients,
most of who had Alzheimers, schizophrenia and depression all in one; one ward of
long-term--meaning lifetime--care patients, who would never function outside the mental
hospital; and one intake ward.
Ill never forget Alicia--a PCP addict who nearly destroyed the ward when she was
brought in, and took a few swings at me: she was placed in a straightjacket, and stayed in
it, strapped to a chair, when she suddenly went catatonic: she was oblivious to the world.
I happened to walk into ward when she came out of it: her first words were, I know
who you are, youre the devil. I said, Alicia, those are the best words
Ive heard in two weeks.
And every day your peer group and mentor would pick you apart--what did you do, why did
you do it, what went wrong, what could you have done better? All designed to make you
realize you arent as good as you think you are. · Real ministry is like that. And
Jesus knew his disciples needed a break. Im sure he needed one too. Lets
go to a deserted place all by ourselves so we can rest.
And thats exactly when the crowds showed up. You know how it is. Havent had
night out in weeks. You finally get away, the waiter arrives with your hors doeuvres
, and the baby sitter calls the kids got a fever and is throwing up. · Youve
planned a vacation for six months, youve got your bags packed, and your mother calls
and says Dad is going to have quadruple bypass tomorrow.
You havent had a day off in 3 weeks, you finally have a Saturday free, and your
sister calls--the father in law has died and she needs you to take the kids for the
weekend. · Always, just when we think we have given all we have to give, there is always
Jesus knew that better than anyone else. Right now Tiger Woods is the most sought after
person in the world---he gets mobbed on the golf course, and I read a reporter followed
him into the john with mike trying to get a sound bite. Jesus crowds were the same.
They pressed around. They wanted to hear from him. They needed direction: they were like
sheep without a shepherd. And finally they need something to eat.
And Jesus had compassion for them. Thats an important thing to know. Jesus had
compassion for people even when he was spent. Which means Jesus has compassion on us when
we are spent. Compassion: a feeling of deep empathy and sorrow for another who is
stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong to desire to alleviate the
pain or remove its cause. To put it simply, Jesus feels and has experienced what we
do, and wants to help us. Thats the meaning of compassion. He begins by teaching
Finally, the disciples have had enough. They said, the hour is late, send them
away to buy something for themselves to eat. Thats probably one of the most
honest prayers ever uttered. We see hungry, needy, sick , homeless people, war victims,
far more than we can stand. Sometimes we get angry--why dont they just take charge
of their lives and be responsible! Sometimes we simply want to hide. · And Jesus says
just what the disciples dont want to hear: You give them something to eat.
The disciples complain--like we would probably complain--What can we give--there
are 5000 men plus wives and children here! Give us as break! All we have is five loaves of
barley bread and a couple of dried fish. Bring them here to me.
And then he does something thats very instructive for us. He has the crowd break
up into groups of 50 or 100. Now its no longer a crowd. Its a community.
Whats Grace Church? We have 130 or so active communicants. About 60 are here on
Sunday. We have a Senior Center where everyone knows each others name. We recognize
the stranger who walks in the midst. There is no anonymity of the crowd here: we know each
other--or at least can know each other! You can know 50 or 100, you can keep track of
them. Even the largest churches in the world can succeed only if they make themselves like
Grace Church--places people can be known. Remember Cheers----a place to go
where everybody knows your name. So Jesus is giving us a model of what a church is like.
· And then Jesus feed them. He takes whatever they have---5 loaves and 2 fishes--looks up
to heaven, blesses them, breaks the bread and gives the pieces to the crowd. And all were
Whatever else this story means, it is the precursor of Holy Eucharist--Jesus took
the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and
said, Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of
Jesus solves the problem of human need by giving himself. Thats the model he
passes to the disciples. When they are exhausted, stressed out, and have nothing more to
give, he takes what they have--that is, he takes who they are---and multiplies it--so that
there is enough. You see, anything we have is enough when it is offered to the Lord.
However much it is broken, however much is too exhausted, however reluctant we are, Jesus
multiplies it. And in the process we are multiplied, were turned into disciples, and
then apostles, and , God willing, eventually into saints. Amen.