Year A, Proper 13
Rev. Katie Holicky
Assistant Rector for Children and Youth
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
This week our nation bid farewell, to as former President Obama put it, one of the founding fathers of the future of our nation, Congressman John Lewis. A civil rights champion, John Lewis was someone who was willing to wrestle with the status quo. To stand firmly in his love and respect of human dignity and insist there was indeed a way forward that could honor that profound truth. In his final words to the nation in an essay published on the day he was buried, Congressman Lewis reminded us of the need to continue to wrestle towards justice for all people and to let love be our guide. A powerful invitation alongside this image of Jacob struggling, wrestling at the river.
I have never identified with Jacob more than in this moment of life we are currently living. These days, we find ourselves wrestling with so much, perhaps feeling like Jacob. Wrestling with what was, what is now, and the uncertainty of what will be. Wrestling to change. While we might not be renamed Israel… we are becoming something new.
Through Jacob we are extended the invitation to grapple with the trust and tension we often find ourselves in as people on a faith journey. It is in wrestling we are transformed beyond our wildest imaginations. Something more than the status quo we have all lived in for so long. As John Lewis said, referring to his early years working with Martin Luther King Jr. in the shared dream of equality, we “must do (our) part to help build what we call the Beloved Community” (nytimes.com).
And moving beyond the status quo is also what Jesus invites us to as well in our Gospel reading this morning. Feeding the 5,000. This miracle of abundance is the only miracle mentioned in all four canonical gospels (Jewish Annotated Bible, 27). Now, this is no small thing as we know each Gospel was written for particular communities in mind… and for some reason… all of the writers, and editors sense, felt this story was too important to leave out.
Perhaps, because of the abundance shared in community. Perhaps, because this story recalls the experience of manna in the wilderness after the Hebrews had escaped slavery in Egypt. Or, perhaps it is that through this meal the last supper is anticipated (Jewish Annotated Bible, 28). For whatever reason, we must take note that this story is foundational in our understanding of the Good News.
So, we start with this scene where Jesus gets in the boat to go away. Why? John the Baptist, his cousin and dear friend, has just been brutally killed. Jesus and the disciples are grief stricken (Feasting on the Word, 308). They are seeking rest and healing for themselves. And upon seeing the crowds Jesus in his compassion is moved and he tends to their physical needs as he heals… and later feeds them (workingpreacher.org). And in his tending of the crowd he does so in a bit of an unusual way for him. There is no sermon, there is no parable… there is only action steeped in compasion (Feasting on the Word, 309). He “Saw, had compassion, he ordered, he took, he looked, blessed, broke, and gave” (Feasting on the Word, 309).
However, before they are all fed in the abundance of this miracle, the disciples try to send the people away. Their statement is an important one. It is one born of empire, a status quo that demands folks find a way to go and care for themselves. In our own society we know these statements all too well. The disciples are in a frame of mind that prevents them from the possibility of seeing how what they perceive as nothing, the five loaves and two fish, can become enough for all of those gathered. And how like Jesus to push them, and us, beyond that frame to one that holds space for abundance in community for all. Jesus shows us something new; something we have yet to imagine and is still possible.
Jesus has everyone sit down, slowing down collectively as a community. He takes what food they have and blesses it; in some translations it reads “gives thanks”. And somewhere between the blessing and sharing there is a multiplication that brings such abundance everyone is fed and there are leftovers.
In a Bible Study with peers this week someone brought up the question, “Where does the multiplication happen?”. It was in this question I remembered an article on miracles from seminary. It suggested perhaps the multiplication came, at least in part, in sharing.
The idea is that the community was moved by the example of Jesus. An example that flows beyond the typical status quo. He tends to them in compassion, heals them, and instead of sending them away to try and care for themselves, he offers up whatever is there with thanksgiving to be shared. And in this particular article the miracle is that everyone there then checks to see what they have and they share it with thanksgiving. It is in the sharing in the community that there is such abundance. A beautiful way to consider what miracles we may be a part of in God’s unfolding in the world.
How do we move from wanting to send people away, to an invitation that allows us to bless what is there and co-create into God’s abundance? How do we trust that even when we think there is not enough, “but only these five loaves and two fish”, we will be met with more than enough?
This week, I hold fast to these final words from John Lewis, “So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” (nytimes.com). We walk in the wind… wrestling and trusting that we are becoming something new, and that in slowing down and being in community we are inspired to be a part of that miracle of abundance. We open our hearts to the possibility of more than the status quo. To be moved to action steeped in the compassion of Christ. And with God’s help we will not be moving back to what was, as we wrestle in the now, but moving forward to what can be. May it be so.