Most of you are familiar with the name Yogi Berra. He played baseball for the New York Yankee a number of years back. He has become perhaps as well known for his – well, shall we say, creative use of the English language as he is for playing baseball. He was featured several years ago in an Aflac commercial – sitting in a barber’s chair – talking about Aflac insurance. You remember that commercial?
He’s in the barber’s chair, singing the praises of this insurance company, and he says – “… and they give you money, which is just as good as cash.”
When giving directions to his home, he often told people, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” When talking about baseball he said this, “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”
How about this one! “The towels were so thick there, I could hardly close my suitcase.” And then there was the time when talking about a certain restaurant that he said, “That place is so crowded, no one goes there anymore.”
Speaking of restaurants, there was the time he went to a restaurant by himself and ordered a large pizza. The waitress asked if he would like it cut into four or six pieces. And he said, “You better cut the pizza in four pieces, because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus feeding the crowd – not with pizza – but with five loaves of bread and two fish. The Bible says 5000 men in addition to women and children were there. And unlike Yogi’s famous six pieces, I think this crowd of people was more than delighted to know that Jesus was able to cut five loaves and two fish into enough pieces to satisfy everyone.
Skeptics over the years have tried to explain away the supernatural power that Jesus has to perform miracles. This is especially so when it comes to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.
I’ve told you this before, but I want to debunk again something that is said all too often about this miracle. One widely spread attempt to explain away the miraculous nature of the feeding of the 5,000 is to say that people were moved by the generosity of a little boy who shared his lunch. And notice that Matthew does not tell us where the disciples got the five loaves and two fish from. When John writes about this event in his gospel, that’s where we learn of the boy who hands over his bread and his fish.
But a modern explanation – and again – I want you to know that I totally disagree with this explanation – but it is told so often that I just have to refute it – one modern explanation for the multiplication of the loaves and fish suggests that everyone in the crowd who had brought food with them brought that food out of their traveling pouches –and lo and behold, everyone had enough to eat. And then the point of the story turns away from who Jesus is – and what Jesus can do – and turns it into a nice Sunday School lesson about sharing. It’s just a ridiculous attempt to take the miracle out of the miraculous.
Folks, let me tell you, that if Jesus is the Messiah – if he is indeed the Son of God – if Jesus is exactly who he says he is – then there is no question but that he performed miracles, and did so on a regular basis. So when you read or listen to the telling of the miracles of Jesus – please remember that the purpose they serve is to tell us something about who Jesus is – AND a second thing – is to call forth a response from us to what we have heard or read.
So not only is this a well-known episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples – but it is so important that it is the only miracle of Jesus recorded by all four Gospel writers.
Now here’s the thing. As this passage begins, we find Jesus looking for a little down-time. He has just learned that his cousin – John the Baptizer – has been beheaded by the order of King Herod. So Jesus needs to get away. But – as is almost always the case – the crowds find him, and as we have already seen, it is a crowd that is overwhelming.
The first thing we’re told is that Jesus has compassion on the crowd. And after a busy day of healing – and perhaps a little preaching on the side – it’s evening. It’s time for other things. Think about it. Even if it IS Jesus who you’re listening to, 5,000 plus people are going to demand a bathroom break. And they’re going to want something to eat too.
The disciples’ answer to the food problem is, “Send them away! Let them go elsewhere to buy what they need to eat.”
But Jesus? Even after a busy day, he is still showing compassion. He says, “They need not go away. Peter, Andrew, Philip, Matthew, Thomas – you give them something to eat.”
“Uh, Lord? You’ve gotta be kidding, right? There’s more than 5,000 people here. All we’ve got in our hands are five loaves of bread, and two fish some kid brought along with him.”
And Jesus says, “Bring them here. You bring them here to me. I’ll take what you’ve got – and you just sit back – and you just watch.” And Jesus takes that bread. And he takes that fish. And he looks up to heaven, and he blesses it, and he breaks it, and he gives it to his disciples, and they give it to the crowd, and everyone eats, and they gather up – how many baskets left over? Twelve. That’s right, twelve.
And this is the miracle. From these five loaves and these two fish – remember, there was no other food – Jesus miraculously provides enough food for everybody to be filled – with 12 baskets left over! One basket for each disciple to bring back to Jesus. Don’t miss that! Here they come – carrying a basket of leftovers – shaking their heads, saying, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it!” You see, Jesus was still impressing on these disciples who he is and what he can do. He is still making an impression on us about who he is and what he can do!
May I suggest to you that whenever Jesus performs a miracle – that miracle begins with compassion. But then, at least in this case, something else was needed. And that something else was when somebody else placed something – in this case bread and fish – into Jesus’ hands. If there’s any sharing going on in this miracle – it is the sharing by one little boy of the lunch his mother had packed for him that day.
Do you see what’s going on here? God can use whatever it is that we have in our hands and place into God’s hands. Some gift. Some ministry. Some person moved by compassion into an act of kindness. God can use those things – God can use you – God can use me – and what it is we hold in our hands for God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our own good.
Let me share with you a story. It’s a story about a young lad, 13 years old at the time, who read about Dr. Albert Schweitzer's missionary work in Africa. He wanted to help. He had enough money to buy one bottle of aspirin. He wrote to the Air Force and asked if they could fly over Dr. Schweitzer's hospital and drop the bottle down to him. A radio station broadcast the story about this young fellow's concern for helping others. Others responded as well. Eventually, he was flown by the government to Schweitzer's hospital along with 4 1/2 tons of medical supplies worth $400,000 freely given by thousands of people. This, of course, would be the equivalent of millions of dollars today. When Dr. Schweitzer heard the story, he said, “I never thought one child could do so much.”
Our Gospel story today is about Jesus. It involves a child – a child who didn't have much. But what he did have, he offered to Christ. And thousands of hungry people were fed.
Folks, Christianity can never be thought of as something that you do on your own. You cannot be a Lone Ranger with a Lone Ranger faith in today’s church! We’re not in this alone. This is a partnership – a partnership between God – between you – and me. It is a partnership of people of faith – moved by compassion – the same compassion that Jesus showed to the crowds. God takes what we have to offer, and then uses if for His glory, for the benefit of others, and for our own good.
You see, when we hear or read stories like this one, we have a choice. We can either choose to be bystanders – spectators enjoying a good story – or we can enter into the story. We can stay on the sidelines – or we can get into the game.
Every week, when we pass the plate, we do that not because God needs our money, because God doesn’t. But we all recognize that WE have a need. We have a need to take what’s been placed into our hands and place it into God’s hands, and then stand back and watch what God can do with it.
You see, what we have to offer – what we hold in our hands – no matter what it is – and the amount isn’t important – whether it be a check, or money – which is just as good as cash – or time offered at Habitat for Humanity – or Family Promise – or Mission trips to Haiti or Belize – whatever it is you are called to do – or wherever it is that you show compassion – we are placing that time – we are placing those gifts – taking them from our hands, and putting them into God’s hands –AS AN ACT OF WORSHIP – so that God can put it to use.
Again – it is in serving others where real joy is found. Not always convenient, I know. And it’s certainly not always easy. But let me ask you anyway. What are you ready to release? For God’s glory – for the benefit of others – and for your own good – what are you ready to release? What do you hold in your hands?