St. Mary Nanoose Bay
August 2, 2020
In this reading today from the gospel of Matthew, we have some interesting points to explore. It’s it wonderful that every time we read scripture, if we’re open, our attention will be caught by something different.
For me, this time of reading this passage, my attention was caught by two ideas: firstly, that so often we come to God with our own solutions, praying for them to be realized or to come true, instead of asking what we might do in a given situation and listening for direction; and secondly, the whole idea of blessing.
Jesus has withdrawn by boat to a deserted place for a time of prayer. He has just received the difficult news that his cousin John has been killed by Herod and he probably wants to be alone to grieve. But the crowds are hungry for his wisdom and healing. They think nothing of pursuing him on foot and interrupting his solitude. Jesus’ response? When he sees them, it says – “He had compassion of them and cured their sick.”
Because they have followed Jesus to this deserted place, they are far from town and the disciples come to express their concern that it is dinner time and the people need food. They presume the solution – “Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus counters with a solution they could not have thought of on their own – “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” And being rational people, the disciples argue - “But we have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
Again, they don’t ask what they should do but argue along rational lines. If anything, they would know that Jesus doesn’t live within the confines of puny rational minds. He lives within the wonder and abundance of God’s love and bounty. And from that place, anything is possible. They have seen him heal, they have seen him deal with the rational arguments and philosophical traps of the scribes.
But as we do, they do – they propose the solution instead of inviting, they argue instead of asking. And Jesus patiently leads them through to the other side where things that don’t seem rational become possible.
He takes control and does what seems impossible with what the disciples are able to provide: five loaves and two fish. Jesus gives thanks and blesses the meagre offering and the disciples are able go out among the crowd with enough food to feed the people.
God’s solutions are not our solutions and we lose our humility when we think we know what should happen in any given situation. Hear how Kathleen Norris makes the point:
“Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.”
So can you imagine this passage reading this way? - The disciples come to Jesus and say, “We are concerned that it’s close to dinner time and there’s no food close by. People are hungry and need to eat. What can we do, Jesus?”
This is a crucial learning piece for me – not telling Jesus or God what to do, but telling them of my concern and asking for guidance around what my role or contribution might be.
The second idea I want to briefly explore is that of blessing.
All we know about how the meagre portions of bread and fish were multiplied are in the words in the passage, Jesus 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.
First off, we hear that Jesus tells the people to sit down. I imagine this is to include them in the blessing he is about to say. They will all be able to see. “Jesus looked up to heaven;” in other words, he acknowledges from where the food has come, then blesses the food and breaks it up so it can feed many.
Thanksgiving and blessing are highly underrated in this culture[I1] . Both focus our minds and our intentions in specific ways. Giving thanks and asking God’s favour and protection for our actions have power. Power we don’t even know about.
I had no idea how much power blessing has when it comes to food until I spent a long evening in the kitchen many years ago, cooking and baking up a whole box full of food for my friend who lost her baby in childbirth. I cried, I prayed and I asked a blessing on each dish I prepared. I asked that the food I was preparing for my dear friend would nourish her, help her heal and sustain her family in their time of grief. I poured love and compassion for my friend into the meals and treats. It certainly helped me move through my shock and grief. Many weeks later, my friend asked me, “What was in that food you gave me?” I didn’t know what she was talking about. “Everything was so incredibly delicious!!” she explained. And suddenly I understand that food is not just food. It is a way of blessing, nurturing others.
That’s why fast food doesn’t really satisfy – not just because it’s not particularly healthy for you (even if it tastes great!), but because, for the most part, it has not been prepared by loving hands and compassionate hearts.
Jim and I have a drawing in our kitchen that has these words wrapped around the artwork: “There are things you do because they feel right and they make no sense and they make no money and it may be the real reason we are here – to love each other, and to eat each other’s cooking and say it was good.”
Prayer before meals has been shown to affect the absorption of nutrients. There is something about slowing down, becoming present, giving thanks and asking that the nourishment we receive enable us to do God’s work that affects the chemistry in our bodies. That makes perfect sense to me!
In that brief description of how Jesus looks up to heaven and blesses the meagre food, it goes on to say Jesus gave the food to the disciples and they, in turn, gave it to the people.
That reminds me of our Community Dinners at St. Mary’s – how we share our abundance with others. In acknowledging all we have received, we, in turn, share our gifts with others. And through our efforts, God is able to feed and nourish others in ways we will never know and cannot imagine. It’s not for us to fully understand the effects of our efforts; our part is to lovingly prepare the food as a blessing to those who show up, and then bring the food to them.
And of course, now we need to speak of the biggest banquet of all – the Eucharist, in which we take common bread (well, in the weird shape of wafers that are found no where else!) and wine, and in giving thanks and blessing the basic elements, we are given the very life force of Jesus himself; taking it into our bodies to transform our hearts and minds to become more of the people we were created to be, humble and willing to serve God and God’s world.
It’s been difficult not to come together each Sunday and share this very sacred meal. We hunger for communion, we long for that intimate expression of God’s love to us. And we look forward to that day when we can eat together in community in our lovely sacred space.
In the most recent magazine from the Society of St. John the Evangelist, I found this amazing gift – the text for a Spiritual Communion. I’ve adapted the core of the liturgy:
In union, Blessed Jesus, with the faithful of your Church everywhere, and remembering especially our parish community of St. Mary Nanoose Bay, we offer you praise and thanksgiving, for creation and all the blessings of this life, for the redemption won for us by your life, death, and resurrection, for the means of grace and the hope of glory.
And particularly for the blessings given to our community and to each one of us…………(I invite you now to take a moment to think of those blessings……(pause)
We believe you are truly present in the Holy Sacrament and since we cannot at this time receive communion, we pray you come into our hearts. We unite ourselves with you and embrace you with our whole heart, soul and mind. Let nothing separate us from you; let us serve you in this life until, by your grace, we come to your glorious kingdom and unending peace. Amen.
We all have struggles and all need healing, and God comes to us in every meal to nourish and sustain us. I encourage you this coming week to put down your book, turn off the TV, close your eyes, and give thanks out loud or in your hearts for the food at each meal.
Ask that the blessing you receive through the food you eat become blessing for others. How are we to be blessing to others? We may have our own wonderful ideas. But let’s let God show us a more wonderful way than we could come up with. Ask and listen carefully for how you are to proceed. For it is in responding to the needs of others, that we become fully human.
Thanks be to God!! Amen.