One day in a mother’s group I participated in when my children were much younger, we were telling stories of those days when our parental resources had been stretched to the limit.
One mother said that when she was recently divorced, she was always tired and mostly broke. She worked long days for not much pay. When the first birthday without the father in the house rolled around she wanted it to be special for her six-year son. She planned a very modest party with a few friends. She stayed up late the night before and made a cake from scratch the way she remembered her mother doing. Then she hid it behind the bread box.
Next day, at the party, there were a few low tech games, an inexpensive craft, and then she stepped into the kitchen to retrieve the cake. About the time she realized the bread box had been dislodged, the dog threw up on the floor.
The dog had eaten the cake. The whole cake. It was gone.
The mother was frantic. She had nothing. The cake was the thing. She didn’t have hotdogs. She didn’t have chicken nuggets. She didn’t have time to make another cake. She didn’t have money to send someone out to buy another cake.
She was supposed to bring out a cake with candles, sing happy birthday, and feed the birthday boy and his friends. And she had nothing.
Matthew tells a story about the disciples of Jesus in a similar situation. They were supposed to pull off an event they did not have the resources to complete.
After the death of his cousin John, Jesus had headed off into the middle of nowhere to be alone. Crowds followed him. So now thousands of people were in the middle of nowhere.
Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion on the people. He turned toward them. He felt for them. He cared about them. So he took care of them – healing and teaching, all day, in the middle of nowhere.
As the day is fading away, the disciples become concerned. They come up with a thoroughly practical and prudent suggestion.
“Jesus,” they say, “It’s getting late. It’s time to send these people home before it gets too dark. They need to get out of this deserted place while they can still find their way. They must be hungry by now. We can’t feed them. They have got to get back to villages where they can find something to eat.”
The disciples are thinking about the needs of the people. Check. They have noted their own resources. Check. They are thinking ahead. Check. That all sounds good.
Yet, Jesus says, “No. No, let’s not do that. All these people can stay right here, where they are. Because you, my disciples, can feed them.”
We might need to remind the youngest among us that there were no Uber Eats, no Grub Hub, not even any pizza delivery or Burger King drive-through. The disciples didn’t have the option of calling out for food to be delivered. Before thousands of hungry people, they have nothing.
Oh, wait. They did have five loaves and two fish.
Jesus says, “Bring them to me.”
Then come words that to me are among the most holy, healing and empowering in all of scripture. Jesus took what they had, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.
His disciples gave it to the crowds. Five loaves. Two fish. Five thousand men. Plus women. And their children. All hungry. All ate. All were filled. When they brought it to Jesus, what they had was enough.
We can be a lot like those disciples. We focus on what we don’t have and are convinced isn’t it have enough. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough time or enough energy. Not enough creativity. We don’t have enough resources.
And yet, over and over again, we have experienced that when we brought our something to Jesus was enough. When our loved one was diagnosed with cancer, we found we when we brought what little strength we had to Jesus, it was enough to get us through. When our children were hurting, rebelling, dying inside, we found that when we brought the patience we had to Jesus it was enough to keep us wise. When we have been betrayed, we found that when we brought our small and resentful kernel of forgiveness to Jesus it was enough to begin to rebuild a relationship.
Churches can be a lot like prudent practical disciples. Probably because we remember when churches had a lot more and because we do in fact have limited resources. We stand before Jesus, acting as if we are in the middle of nowhere, clutching our five loaves and two fish and claiming they are nothing.
We look out at the crowds of needy people. They are hurting. They are ill. They are poor. And, boy, are they hungry! What could we possibly do for them, we think? All we have are a few children, a handful of millennials and Gen X’s, and two baskets each filled with Baby Boomers and the Great Generation.
Practical, prudent disciples might be tempted to start saying, “We don’t really have many resources. For all intents and purposes, we have nothing. We can’t possibly respond to the needs of the hungry hoards. We can’t possibly change a community. What we do have, we need for ourselves. So before it is too late, let’s send these people away. They can go somewhere else. There isn’t anything more that we can do for them.”
We hear the call of Jesus to feed his sheep, baptize the nations, make peace in the world and welcome the strangers and we think that is impossible for us.
But this is what Jesus says to his practical, prudent disciples with limited resources: “See these people. See those people right in front of you. See the community that is right here around you. These people are right here in the middle of nowhere and you and I are with them. These people are hungry for my presence. They are hurting with all kinds of burdens. Have compassion on these people. Turn toward them. See them. Know them. Care about these people right here in the community around you.
“Now, bring what you have. Whatever you have – whatever little bit you have – bring it to me. Bring it to me and I will bless it. I will break it. I will give it back to you – whatever you have brought to me. You share it with the community.”
And there will be enough.”
The mother with a birthday son and dog-slobbered crumbs of cake was awfully tempted to take the disciples’ line of reasoning.
She thought I’ll just say, “It’s getting late. I’m sure you are all hungry. It’s about dinner time. I’m sorry I’ve got nothing to serve you. I know you all must want to be heading home. It was very nice seeing you.” It seemed like a practical, prudent resolution to a situation for which she had no solution for because she had no resources.
Oh, wait. There was that whipping cream.
She pulled out the carton that was supposed to be a decoration for the cake. She got out the mixer and beat up the whole container extra thick. She mounded it up onto a plate. Stuck six candles in it. And when someone turned out the lights, she brought out whipped cream. Everyone sang happy birthday. The candles were blown out. Everyone got a plate and a spoon and more whipped cream then they had ever had before.
That broke mother who was sure she was out of resources had something. And what she served up with what little she had was not just whipped cream.
She served up joy. She served up delight. She served up celebration. She saw the people who were before here – her children and their friends – and she taught them that she saw them, cared for them, that they were worth giving all she had.
She served up community.
That’s what people are hungry for.
They are hungry for community.
They need to know that they are seen. That someone has compassion for them. That someone knows their pain – whether it is because they are broke,or money hasn’t cured their loneliness. Or sick or can’t figure out the meaning of their life. People want to find joy, to join a celebration. They want to be part of a community where their resources are expanded.
Sometimes I think that the greatest miracle in this story is that the disciples did what Jesus told them to do.
They didn’t know how this was going to work out. Maybe they didn’t even think it was going to work out. Maybe they just thought a few people would be fed.
And that would be a miracle too, wouldn’t it? That hungry tired disciples didn’t keep what they had for themselves but gave what they had to hungry, tired people.
And we don’t know how this is going to work out.
We can do what do what Jesus asks.
We can bring what we have – our ideas, our talents, our energy, our time, our money, our facilities, our creativity, our intelligence, and our very lives to Jesus. He will bless them. He will break them up – we have to be ready for that. He gives them back to us to give to others – to the community right here before us.
Whatever we have, it is enough.