What prompts us to be compassionate? A few months ago, I brought up the Good Samaritan as someone who left his road in order to enter a new road, a road of compassion for someone outside his tribe.
Can you think of a time when you left your own road, your own plans for the day or your life, and entered the road of compassion?
If any of us are compassionate, it’s because it is a quality of God’s own self. Yet, we know many people would like to believe that God doesn’t feel. That God created the world and then just stays up in heaven, watching, but stays out of human affairs. Stays transcendent. Stays out of our business. We know that Christ Emmanuel – God with us – lived with us as a human among humans, and not indifferent to our sufferings.
Have you ever been asked if you are a religious person? Often, I think the asker wonders simply, if you’re compassionate – are you perhaps more compassionate than most people? Why else would you be religious? The world looks at us religious people and wonders maybe, where’s the compassion?
A few weeks ago, Jesus felt compassion for the people. 36”When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
In today’s gospel, compassion is the mission itself. Jesus sees the people again as sheep without a shepherd. “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” What we see is that the compassion doesn’t end with healing. His compassion extends to feeding all of them, including the women and children.
Just before today’s text, we read that King Herod kills Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist as a part of his birthday celebration. Such depravity!
Following this night of murder and death, Jesus brings life – he cures many in the crowd. That would have been enough. No, he feeds five thousand men; with the women and children, the numbers may have been more like twelve to fifteen thousand. In today’s gospel, first Jesus heals the people of all their ills. There must have been so much joy among the people! Released from the bondage of their illnesses! There must have been spontaneous dances of joy! The disabled are walking on two legs again! The blind can see for the first time this joyous celebration of life. The deaf can suddenly hear the ruckus everyone is raising! Alleluias sung! Thanks be to God proclaimed! Jesus can’t send them home – not now. The party is just getting started! We need food for the party!
The sheep are to be fed.
The apostles, ever practical, remind Jesus it’s getting late. Sub text – this festival of joy has to end – send the people home now, while there is still light enough to see their way back. They say: “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Can the apostles be faulted for using human logic?
Yet, the Light of the World is standing right next to them.
Consider this: How often do churches use secular logic to run things, rather than leaning on Christ who has a different kind of logic? Based in FAITH.
The apostles are concerned that the hour is late, night is coming, but let’s remember that JESUS is the light of the world, by which we see.
Jesus has a better idea. First, he says, “YOU give them something to eat.”
Shock and dismay! Remember, he still hasn’t even sent them out two by two on mission together. That is still in the future. They feel their own emptiness and lack. Maybe Jesus means for them to feel suddenly vulnerable and helpless.
In this moment they have to lean on HIM. They find a pittance of bread and fish, not enough to feed two hungry men, let alone a crowd. They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
Everything is in that BUT – we have nothing BUT – something.
It’s a small something, but OK – I give you my small something. We are no different from the apostles. Scarcity is often our knee jerk reaction. We would have said the same thing, too. “We have nothing.” Would we even mention five loaves and two fish? We’ll give the apostles snaps for noticing what they DO have.
How does Jesus multiply a pittance? We don’t know – but his question to the apostles shows that he wants to collaborate with us humans. Jesus reveals God’s heart as one of mercy and COMPASSION. God does not stay up in heaven, indifferent to human needs and hunger. God is right there among the hungry people.
In that question to the apostles, Jesus reveals that he wants people to work with him – discipleship is working with the God of ABUNDANCE, with God’s COMPASSION. God does not display inertia or indifference. Jesus gives us the imagination to see abundance where there is scarcity.
Was there ever a time when you said, “I only have . . .’ but you found it was somehow enough?
That God blessed and multiplied your small amount?
Did you ever take a chance?
Has there ever been a time when you felt like you were collaborating with God?
If there is one thing that people who don’t go to church know – churches are where they feed people. St. John has a long history of feeding people.
Christa Tucillo, one of the members of St. John, was telling me this story at our weekly meditation group. She said this story of the feeding of the five thousand was very meaningful to her when she was a little girl. She says she read it over and over and over again. Over and over. It stuck with her. I would say that Jesus was speaking to Christa’s heart as a little girl. Is it any surprise that Christa is one of the leaders at St. John who feeds hungry people is of the community? Christa is one of our leaders when it comes to feeding hungry people. Christa is a disciple, putting action and involvement into addressing the community’s needs.
Because of the virus, we know so many people are unemployed and feeling fear and the scarcity of empty food shelves. We’ve seen the long lines at food pantries. Many of you have contributed to the New Life food pantry in Uniondale, too. There is a movement called the Little Free Pantry. https://littlefreepantry.org The Little Free Pantries repurposes the mini boxes outside libraries that normally have free books. Now they are repurposing the boxes to put imperishable food for hungry people. Their motto is, “If you’re hungry come and take and when you can, give back.”
“IN LATE APRIL, A LARGE NATIONAL SURVEY FOUND THAT MORE THAN 17% oF MOTHERS REPORTED THEIR CHILDREN UNDER 12 WERE NOT GETTING ENOUGH TO EAT BECAUSE THE FAMILY COULDN’T AFFORD FOOD—A MORE THAN 400% INCREASE FROM WHEN THE GOVERNMENT LAST MEASURED HUNGER RATES IN 2018.
These are startling statistics. A 400% increase in hunger due to unemployment caused by the pandemic. We know that food insecurity has skyrocketed since March.
Remember when we’d have church dinners? Oh, those were the days!
The most recent was the interfaith pancake dinner we hosted on Ash Wednesday.
The most spectacular was the banquet you had for me in January when I was installed.
Pr. John Bahnke said when he was a little boy, it was those church dinners that piqued his interest into becoming a pastor. The humble church dinner made an impact on him. He would see the old and the young sit down together to share a meal. All were welcome. It was a spectacle, a GLIMMER of the kingdom of God – or perhaps the KIN- dom of God where all sit down together and enjoy a FEAST like a family. Pr. Bahnke also remembers the Swedish meatballs. Memorable to this day. The secret sauce – ? LOVE.
In my daily emails to you, I recently shared a story about the woman in California who knew there were 300 homeless people in an encampment. She is a filmmaker and an EMT, so she put her skills to work as an EMT. She said she “didn’t have the time or the money to prepare dozens of meals each day.” In desperation she put out the word through NEXTDOOR app and the responses from her neighbors was overwhelming. Soon, Karin’s neighbor, Teri Jenkins, a retired teacher stepped in to help organize and very soon there were thirty people making 50 meals a day.” YouTube
The outpouring of support didn’t end there. They used an app to organize meal-making in the community. Then, neighbors collected necessities to distribute among the homeless camps, including socks, hygiene items, and medical supplies. And the generosity kept coming! A lawyer visited the camps to help residents figure out how to get their fiscal stimulus checks, and an engineer named Rick built hand washing stations!
Jesus’ compassion is the light by which we all see. Compassion multiplies a pittance into a feast. Compassion, faith, trust. In collaboration with his human disciples, Jesus blesses the offering and multiplies it for the MANY. Jesus invites us to join the feast with him. To look not at what we DON’T have, but what we do. We walk forward in TRUST and FAITH, and let him do the multiplying.
Jesus wants us to take our reservations, our hesitations, our inertia, our indifference and give them to him. He will take our BUT – but I only have this – but I have only enough for – and give it to him in TRUST Let us see what he can do with it.
I thank you, Lord for your compassionate heart. You have not abandoned a single one of us. We give you our stony hearts and ask that you make them hearts you can use.
We pray in Jesus’ name.