Christ in Us: Gratitude
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “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.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Romans 8: 35- 39
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Calamity? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? Violence? As scripture says, “For your sake, we’re being killed all day long; we’re looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of God who has loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths—nor anything else in all creation—will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior.
God is here- come and lay down the burden you have carried- God is here- To heal the hopeless heart and bless the broken.
This is the feeding of the 5000 in a nutshell. Jesus was exhausted, grieving the death of his friend John the Baptist, and he needs a minute. So he goes off on his own, actually the text says "he withdrew." He pulled back from ministry, gets in a boat by himself and sails to "a deserted place"... just him and God. Jesus the healer, needed healing. But when he gets to his chosen place of solitude, it's not deserted at all- the people have found him, and as his boat draws near the shoreline and he sees thousands waiting for him, amazingly, he does not get annoyed. He doesn't even get disappointed. The text says Jesus sees them and feels compassion for them... his heart goes out to them. His plans for a silent retreat go in his back pocket and he begins healing them. He cured their ‘sick.’
I start here because in some of the other gospels this story is told where the emphasis is on Jesus's teaching, or preaching to the crowds. But Matthew says that our of his compassion "he cured their sick." But there's a problem here; the crowd followed him on foot to one of the most remote places in the area. What ‘sick’ could make that kind of a journey?
I often talk of my friend Pete who died a couple of years ago- he had MS for 12 years and half of that time he was in a wheelchair. Once, after traveling some distance to a fair his wife Beth realized that they had forgotten to pack the front wheels of Pete's chair. For the next several hours, John Pepe pushed Pete around the fairground, tipping the wheelchair back enough for Pete's dangling legs to not drag on the ground. John came home with forearms like Popeye and probably lost 6 pounds from the heat that day- and this was a simple country field, with plenty of refreshment stands and rest.
Were there John Pepe's in the crowd who would have walked all those miles through wilderness terrain and arid climate, tipping a wheelchair back so the sick could see Jesus? Oh wait, no wheelchairs, so maybe carried? Perhaps the blind were led through over the rocky and rooted paths, if there were paths? Perhaps the lepers walked behind... I don't know. But it seems to me that getting to Jesus that day if one were physically ill would have been nothing short of impossible.
So I'd like to put forth the notion that Matthew is speaking of another kind of sick. The text says he cured their sick- and then it tells us how. The disciples looked around and saw that they were in a remote place, saw the needs of the people and the enormity of the crowd, and declared their illness to Jesus- "we have nothing." Their sick, and the sick of the crowd, was their perception and fear of scarcity." That what we have is not enough, or won't be enough, or will eventually run out.
You know, if you visit that area even today, tour guides will warn you to never go anywhere without food or water- its that dangerous to be in that climate out for any length of time without it. If modern tour guides know it, surely the locals of the area would have prepared for the journey by packing food and water.
Jesus shows his disciples that there was indeed enough food by inviting one boy to share what he had packed in an act of generosity, and indeed there was enough in the crowd that day to feed everyone. Jesus heals them of the fear of scarcity through faith in abundance. One boy's willingness to share is multiplied and all are more than provided for.
This is much the same "sick" we suffer from today. We live in a society where "scarcity" is the norm- we're told and most believe and then fear that there is just not enough to go around- that resources are limited- that we will run out money, or food, or water, or breathable air. And there is scientific and socioeconomic data to back it up.
So in an effort to care for ourselves, and our families and ensure we have "enough" we take what we need, and even more than we need, because it makes us feel more protected and less fearful. The more we have stockpiled, the safer we feel. We realize that us taking too much will leave others with less, but we found a way around feeling bad about that... we just create "thems" and come up with reasons why "they" don't deserve what we have, whether they don't work hard enough, or aren't the right color, or gender or age or live in the right place or don't believe right, or belong to another political party... it helps us justify our means.
Some of the symptoms of our "sick" are "marginalization, discrimination, racism, poverty, pollution, hunger, mental illness, and addiction, among others... The fear of scarcity creates competition, isolation, and polarization. Jesus invites us to be cured- and like the people on the shoreline that day, gives us the power; through, with, in Christ, to do it. But how do we get to that level of sharing from here? We’re so far gone, it seems.
Thank goodness “nothing can separate us from the love of God”- nothing- not hunger or violence or scarcity- nothing- the Greek word for separate is “narrowing of room;” meaning there is no space between us and God- the Christ in US, one with Christ and in Christ- and we cling to that verse, especially today, especially in the face of our own "sick," we cling to the thought that no matter what, cured or not, we are connected to God and God to us- that our connection is unbreakable and unshakable- and that is true... IN Christ- through Christ in US- connected.
But while reassures, I will tell you, this verse has hit me hard this week, especially in thinking about the “cure for my sick.” I know we talk about it a lot, but listen again in light of the feeding of the 5000- Christ in us, doesn’t just mean we are unable to be separated from God- it also means that nothing can separate us from each other- we are as intrinsically connected to one another as we are to god- that IS Christ in us. That’s what Jesus was showing the crowd- showing his disciples- showing us.
So, what? Well- play it out. When I start with my inner circle, that’s awesome. I love my family, my friends, my church family- and I also love being connected to those I enjoy helping- the ones I consider in need of help and I get blessed through helping… but then there’s, you know… them… the ones we don’t want to be connected to, the ones we would never want to be associated with, much less connected to. Thinking about not being able to be separated from ‘them’ makes us sick to our stomach… and coming up with any feelings of love or compassion- compassion- that we would even let our hearts go out to ‘them’ when ‘they’ are so vile and dare I say evil… that I need to act in love to ‘them’ and think loving thoughts of them and pray in earnest for them… If this is part of the cure, that’s strong medicine, Jesus.
Yet, if nothing truly separates us from the love of God through Christ, then the Christ in us is never able to separate from others- from anyone… which means we will not fully experience God’s love unless we live as Christ lives and love as Christ loves. That's grace. We share what we have- all of our love- with all.
I feel like at this point I need to give you a Pep talk, a “you can do it and together we can make the world beautiful and harmonious and peaceful” kind of speech, but I need help myself, so let’s go to Nelson Mandela for some timely words of wisdom- in talking about the dream for a beautiful South Africa, he said ‘there are roads that lead to that goal- two of those roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.’
Remember last week’s definition of goodness- benevolence, kindness, benefit- that we are co-laborers with God to bring about goodness- Agathon. This we can do- even though our hearts may not be ready to embrace everything that goes with forgiveness and go down that road, we can walk the path of goodness. Perhaps acting in goodness, simply doing something good for someone else, thinking good, praying for good- brings about something else- like faith, like compassion, like forgiveness.
I find it so powerful that the first act of Jesus disciples after witnessing the miracle of all being fed, was to go and collect the broken pieces. As disciples of Christ, isn't that our call as well- to go get the broken? To go, even to "them" because trust me "they" are as broken as everyone else- to act first, not in fear of scarcity but in faith of abundance-in goodness- knowing that God has enough grace to more than provide.