They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
So remember all this when you put yourself in Jesus’ place the day he was told that John had not only been arrested, but that King Herod had had him killed—killed pointlessly and in a particularly dishonorable way.
Naturally, Jesus was devastated. All he wanted to do was to leave, to get away from it all, to be alone. And so he got in a little boat and went across the lake. But his time alone didn’t last long. When the crowds saw him leave, they went around the lake on foot so they could be with him—not because they had compassion on him but because he’d had compassion on them.
To show how different Jesus is than many of us, though, Jesus was able to look within at his deep need and translate it not into frustration (or even anger) that he didn’t have the me-time that he’d needed, but into an understanding of the deep needs of other people. And so he did have compassion on them; he ministered to the sick and the needy all day long.
At this point, church started to happen. Church, that is, as we know it. The disciples started to point out the problems of what Jesus was doing. And, God help ‘em, they also thought they’d come up with a solution. “It’s late. These people must be hungry. Dismiss them so that they can buy something to eat in nearby villages.”
Jesus was apparently glad they took the initiative to notice the problem, but he had another solution:
“They don’t have to go anywhere to eat,” Jesus told them. “You can feed them.”
Notice that going on here is something that happens in churches all the time. A problem is identified, and somebody comes up with a loving but very impractical solution. And we all know what happens next. I call it dismemberment. The idea is picked apart and adapted until it’s just a shell of what it originally was—a carcass, really.
And that’s exactly what the disciples did. They began to tear Jesus’ proposal apart.
“Feed all these people? Not quite,” they laughed. “All we’ve got are five loaves of bread and two fish—barely enough for us.”
Finally we see that this isn’t just a miracle story. It is actually a parable of what the church, I think, quickly became. A place where the body of Christ was too often dismembered.
But in feeding the hungry, Jesus re-membered. He empowered his followers to feed the hungry, and though they had very good reasons why they couldn’t do it, he re-membered the idea that they had dismembered. And five thousand there in the wilderness that day were fed with enough left over to feed the rest of us.
As we approach the table this morning, let us acknowledge our own brokenness, and admit our tendency to dismember the Christ we love and worship. Here he is re-membered. Here the crucified lives. Here the impossible becomes policy. Here at this table the impractical is celebrated:
*For this is the table not of this church, but of its Lord. It is set for those who love him, and those who want to love him more. So come, you who have much faith, and you who have little; you who have been here before, and you who have not been here in a long time; you who have tried to follow, and you who have failed. Come, not because it is I who invite you, but Christ who calls you. And it is his will that he be re-membered here, and those who want to know him should meet him here.
—©2017 Sam L. Greening, Jr.*This paragraph is adapted from A Wee Worship Book (©1999 Wild Goose Worship Group), p. 95.