The 9th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 13A (8/6/2017)

Lessons
Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (16)
Romans 9:1-5
St. Matthew 14:13-21

Semicontinuous Series
Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 (15)

Prayer of the Day
Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson

14:13 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. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 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.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 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. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

St. Matthew 14:13-21. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Scarcity and Abundance

An old saw contends that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t. This week I find myself among those who do, because of my conviction that there are some people who live out of an ethic of scarcity, and others who live out of an ethic of abundance. Both are found in this weekend’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus has been teaching in cities and villages, drawing remarkable crowds. Many people are inspired by his teaching and touched by his power. He makes his way to his hometown and receives a much less favorable response. About that time King Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist, comes to the conclusion that Jesus is John, raised from the dead. When Jesus hears this he withdraws and makes his way as far from the center of society as he can get.

He doesn’t go there alone. Another great crowd follows him, so he continues his ministry with them in the wilderness. As nightfall approaches, his disciples realize this is a great crowd (5,000  men, so 10,000 people? 15,000?), they are becoming hungry, and there are no markets nearby. When they bring this to Jesus’ attention, he instructs them to feed the crowd.

The disciples respond out of an ethic of scarcity. They know the crowd is large. They know there is little food at hand. They are focused on the notion that what Jesus has just asked them to do isn’t possible. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” Resources are scarce, and that is all the disciples can see.

Jesus sees it differently. He knows that God’s power is with him. He knows that God has a heart for hungry people. He trusts that if he and his followers give it their best, God will come through for them. So he accepts the five loaves and two fish. With a foreshadowing of the Eucharist his followers will use to celebrate his presence in years to come he looks to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves, gives them to the disciples, and the disciples distribute food among the crowd. Three things then happen: everybody eats, everybody is filled, and the disciples each have a full basket of leftovers. Because of Jesus’ ethic of abundance, and his spirit of generosity, thousands of people are made well, and aware of God’s love and care.

Jesus continues to move among us in similar ways. Fourteen months ago, the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church were invited to make a major contribution to the establishment of a new School of Nursing in Arusha, Tanzania. Like most congregations, our budget is fairly tight. Our energies are typically spread out quite thin. Still, the leaders of our congregation opted to accept this invitation, the people of our congregation have been extraordinarily generous, and it looks like we will meet our goal by the end of this calendar year. It was an ethic of abundance that allowed us to believe God would make this possible.

As this project nears its end, I hope we’ll learn what the disciples learned: when God is involved, there is always enough. We can be bold, and live with an ethic of abundance. As we do, God will move through us to become a blessing to others. Thanks be to God for this good news, and for the difference it makes in our lives, and in the lives of others.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were the disciples skeptical about feeding this crowd in the wilderness?
  2. How do I imagine them responding to Jesus?
  3. What must they have been thinking as they collected the twelve baskets of leftovers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has an ethic of scarcity caused me to shrink from a challenge?
  2. When has an ethic of abundance helped me to respond faithfully to an opportunity?
  3. As I reflect on these two ethics, what conclusions do I reach about God?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.