Bible Readings: Romans 9.1-5 and Matthew 14.13-21
The first reading is quite a tricky one to get to grips with – you may be wondering what on earth is the connection between what St Paul was saying in his letter to the Christians in Rome, and the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
Paul was pondering the issue that the Jewish people (of which he was one – and had been a religious teacher at that!) didn’t believe the full story of who Jesus was – of Christ’s divine nature and saving act.
He was so perplexed by this he was saying if he could give up his own salvation, to benefit those who didn’t believe, then he would.
He wanted to follow Jesus’ own footsteps and make a sacrifice, to give himself, for the sake of others.
However the problem for Paul is that of course he couldn’t do that. Only Jesus could (and did) make the ultimate sacrifice that restores all people to God.
Paul wanted to make a difference, to help, because he felt that connection to his kindred, and a need to put them before himself.
This principle of following Jesus’ pattern, of others before self, is at the heart of Christian faith, of being disciples. Back then and today.
In our Gospel reading Jesus sets this out clearly.
Jesus had heard that his cousin and friend, John the Baptist, had been killed, because of what he had been preaching.
He was scared. Quite sensibly he ran away to a quiet place – you could say he self-isolated! I imagine any of us in our right minds would do the same.
But people still followed Jesus. They depended on him. They needed his healing and compassion...
which he knew and so he sacrificed his personal safety and security in order to help those who came to him.
He teaches, he heals, time passes, it gets late.
The disciples say, “tell them to go away and sort themselves out.”
Jesus effectively says, “no, each person isn’t an island, YOU do something about it – they came to us to be fed, spiritually and physically.”
He may have said “we’re all in this together” – something I’ve heard a lot over the past few months.
He may have understood that in a very mixed crowd, some people would have had more resources than others – he wasn’t going to let people go hungry.
So Jesus – who ultimately gave of himself for our lives – showed what was possible when those around him acknowledged their interdependence... on one another, and on God.
The God whose self-giving that even enabled the universe to be formed, through bringing matter not just into existence, but its interaction.
The feeding of the 5000 helps us think about our own relationships and interdependencies.
We can imagine ourselves in the story.
Perhaps (as we are often encouraged to consider) we might be the disciples – being commissioned to give of what we have, to others.
Our lives, all differently shaped, will involve sacrifices of many kinds.
We might consider our charitable giving – how we can support others fairly directly through food banks, or what charities we donate money to.
Who or what do we gladly (or even reluctantly) give our time and energy to – our families, friends, work, community?
Are there any other people or organisations or commitments that depend on us?
But we can also be part of the crowd – those gathered around to hear Jesus and let our lives be transformed by him.
Who and what are we dependent on?
And what are we prepared to give up (as the crowds may have been willing to miss their tea) to spend some more quality time with God?
And finally in those sacrifices, how do we discern the Christian aspect to it – what sets our actions or decisions apart, from that general sense of “just being a good person”?
So something to ponder this week – we might take inspiration from St Paul, trying to figure out how does our faith impact our way of being.
The sacrifices we make, and also how we receive the sacrifices others make for us.