Brief synopsis of the readings: In Isaiah the Lord tells us that all who are thirsty can come to drink, even those who have no money. “Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy.” Matthew’s Gospel begins shortly after Jesus learns that John the Baptist was killed. He went off by himself but the crowds followed him. After healing the sick his disciples attempted to dismiss the crowds but Jesus disagreed. Jesus told them that they should feed the crowds instead. But while his followers could only find five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus blessed them and they were able to feed over five thousand (not including women and children) with the leftovers.
Ask Christians about the phrase “loaves and fishes” and most will recognize the reference. This miracle stands alone in that all four Gospels include it. And that makes sense: the ability to feed so many people astounds us. Oh yes, and apologies to the women and children were not included in the count of 5,000.
In both Isaiah and Matthew we learn that God will provide us with all the food we need and for much of our history that has spoken to us. Even today we speak of refugees, food scarcity, and food insecurity.
But ironically many of us who read this suffer not from a lack of food, but from a surplus. We join gyms, ride stationary rowing machines, stationary bikes, and treadmills, all to burn calories that we ate but did not need. When I was a seminarian we had a small gym in the basement and one of my classmates asked that we purchase a stairmaster, to which the rector replied: “Why do we need a stairmaster? We live in a four story building!” He recognized the insanity of taking the elevator down to use the stairmaster.
Many of us, particularly in the developed regions of our world, do not hunger for food (or even money) but we still hunger.
As many of you know I’m a big fan of quotations from Mother Teresa and she spoke many times to Americans about this. This is my favorite: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” We can provide food, clothing, and shelter fairly easily. But the poverty of isolation calls us to something deeper, and healing it calls us to more of ourselves. It calls us to more than writing a check, it calls not to give of our wealth but ourselves.
I’ve spoken about this before but many years ago I lived just outside of Boston and I met a man from a wealthy suburb. He told me that his church hosted Mother Teresa and she talked about her ministry to the poor. After her talk he approached her with a $100 bill and put it in her hand. He told her that he was so inspired by her words that he wanted her to take his donation and give it to the poor.
But she refused his donation. She told him that he should take the money and find someone who needs it. At first blush that made no sense and he wasn’t certain what to do. She lived in Calcutta where anyone could find a poor person but he needed to find a poor person in a wealthy Boston suburb. He soon recognized that this had nothing to do with the $100 bill and everything to do with him. He needed to find a poor person not only because the poor person needed to receive it but also because the wealthy person needed to give it.
Many of us live in enclaves. We spend most of our time with people who look like us, earn like us, and vote like us. I find it interesting that when Jesus and his disciples handed out the loaves and fishes he had them “sit down on the grass.” In Luke’s version of this event Jesus has the people sit in groups of fifty.
They were, of course, waiting to be fed but I like to think that they spent this time talking and connecting with each other. Sometimes it was easy, and maybe sometimes it wasn’t. Last week we learned of the death of John Lewis. He began his career as a young man in the 1960s as a civil rights activist and at 23 years old spoke at the famous March on Washington in 1963. He, Dr. Martin Luther King, and others demanded an end to segregation and voter suppression. He spoke about “Good Trouble.”
He spoke to the hunger not only for food, but for equality. The poverty of seeing others being denied the vote or fair housing or adequate education should call us all to loaves and fishes of inclusion.
When those among us are denied food it’s an injustice that we have the power to heal. But when those among us are also denied their place in our community we also have the power to heal.
Sadly we see too much of the “politics of exclusion” and tribalism. We’re told that we need to exclude those not like us because there aren’t enough loaves and fishes and we have to claim what’s ours.
But today’s readings fly in the face of that like no other. Not only did the 5,000 (plus women and children) get all they needed, they had leftovers. They had more than they needed.
We live in a world of need. For some the need is food. For some the need is for love and inclusion. But we all have needs and collectively we all have enough. More than enough. Let’s ensure that the loaves and fishes are spread where they need so that everyone has enough.