It has been said that the definition of insanity goes something like this: it is the doing of something over and over again in the exact same way while expecting a different result. There are lots of things that we continually do over, hoping that things will turn out differently… better. It is I think the way that at least some in our society perceive religion. You have to be a good person, do the right things and say the right words and maybe God will listen… maybe. In the meantime, perhaps we look a bit foolish praying prayers and doing good things hoping all the long that God is there, watching and blessing.
That’s the way I view the gospel lesson for this week. People have been impressed. They have been taught. They have been fed and they have had their fill. And the disciples are now cleaning up their mess with twelve rather large baskets, filling them with the “couldn’ts” or leftovers that the multitude was not able to consume. But if you listen carefully, there is no response from the people after they are fed. There was no “wow” factor in this particular miracle. They had been impressed, fed and then went away. I would reflect that it is easier to be impressed than to be impacted. It is easier to keep a distance and not get really involved in something that it is to bring yourself closer and be affected by what is going on around you.
It reminds of the time in Toronto, when I was in training at Church Army College when we were sent to a youth street mission to be “street proofed”. We spent the night on the streets with kids from the mission learning about their lives and how they survived. It wasn’t until I crawled into my soft, clean, warm bed at 7am the next morning that I realized something really important. I was safe. I was warm. And if I wanted I could shower or have a meal. The people I had just spent the night with could not do or be most if any of those things. That’s when I stumbled on something important. Jesus and his disciples feeding the people was an act of compassion. Jesus knew that the people needed to eat and he wanted to teach his Church that people need to be fed. And then I realized that God was looking after us all. God in a real sense was caring for us, providing what we needed according to our circumstances.
Isn’t it true that we all want to be fed? That we will come back for more bread because we will be hungry again? Isn’t it also true that God desires to give us our daily bread? That God desires to care for us, to show us how much he loves us so that we might learn to love him in return? The context of this miracle is that Jesus wants to show the Church that they have what is necessary for them to care for those they find in their charge. It is a miracle in some sense of compassion. We recognize what it is to be hungry. If that is the case should we not care about others in our midst that might also be hungry and thirsty?
In this, there is a clear connection between the Church and the celebration of the Eucharist. It is important for us to enter into and to renew the presence of God in our lives on a regular basis. We need the renewed awareness of God and his presence in our lives and in the world. And we need this renewal because we forget and we struggle and we get hungry and thirsty. That is why God desires to see us fed and to look after us: so that we can respond to him, in prayer, in worship and in acts of kindness and love. All this is so we can re-present Jesus in the world to those who would come to him. So that through us others can see us in him and with him, wherever we are and wherever we go.
There are those who will see him as the “Bread King” and all they will desire is to have their full tummies. But God offers so much more than that. God offers life beyond the bread of this moment; he offers bread that gives eternal life – his Son. People around us are hungry, thirsty cold and in need of shelter. They want something that is not just more but better that what they have now. Offer them what you have; that they too can move into the presence and life of God which is better by far that we might all truly live. God is indeeed with us and he is ready to give and to bless that we might sidover that he is faith to us and awaiting our response.