Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21 Jan Savory
“What feeds you, Jan?”
The first time I met Rev. Susan, our previous priest here at St George’s, she asked me a question. On her first day as Priest at St Philips Anglican Church, she walked into the office, where I was at the computer preparing the bulletin. But the question wasn’t about the bulletin, or the work I was doing there. It wasn’t even generic like Tell me about yourself. It was “So tell me, Jan. What feeds you spiritually?” Not being an introspective type, I didn’t have a ready answer and, in some ways, I am still trying to answer that question!
A long day
Today’s Gospel is about feeding – that much is obvious. Jesus and the disciples were looking for some peace and quiet. The crowd found them – 5000 men plus women and children, that is 5,000 families – and Jesus had compassion on them and taught and healed all day, putting aside his own needs.
Everyone was tired by the end of the day. Were the disciples thinking of Jesus when they asked him to send the people away? After all, he came here for peace and quiet but had spent the day healing people. Maybe they wanted rid of the crowds so they could rest themselves. Or perhaps we should read it at face value. They felt sorry for the people and wanted the people to go to the villages to buy supper.
A story about people being fed
But Jesus had other ideas. He told the disciples to feed the crowd. “You give then something to eat”. I can just hear the reply “Oh, come on Jesus. You must be joking. All we have is this basket of 5 loaves and 2 fish”. But Jesus just quietly asked for the food.
When he received the basket, Jesus looked up to heaven and blessed the loaves, very likely using the traditional Jewish blessing: “Blessed art Thou, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”. Then he broke the bread, gave the food to the disciples to share it out.
Living a Parable
Like most Gospel stories, this one can be read on many levels. What was the miracle here? Did Jesus actually multiply the loaves and fishes, or did the generosity of sharing change the hearts of those who had something to share? Debates about how & whether it happened are a cop out. We cannot know. Factual truth isn’t the issue here.
Last week, Nigel talked about parables. A Parable is a story we can understand at many levels. It might be a short story (like the parables we heard last week) or a long story, like the prodigal son. It might be totally made up or, like the parable of the sower, based on something that is a common event in people’s lives. As I read the gospels, I so frequently find newer and deeper meanings in the stories about Jesus that I wonder if Jesus meant his actions, as well his stories, to be parables. So I look at all the stories in the Gospels as parables. And look for more than the obvious literal meaning.
Being fed – physically or spiritually
On one level, today’s story is about satisfying the physical hunger of a lot of people. Another level is how he used disciples to do this (ministering to others) with enough left over for them to have supper too. And yet another level is about satisfying the spiritual needs of the disciples and the crowd. What feeds you spiritually? As I said, I am still trying to answer that question.
Aren’t we like those crowds?
- It’s been a long day for them, a long spring and summer of Covid for us
- The people are hungry and tired – we are tired of social distancing, needing spiritual nourishment
- They have no food – we don’t have the usual things that feed our souls
- They have a long journey home – we don’t know when we’ll be back to “normal” or what our new normal will be
We don’t know when or how it will end. Yes, like these crowds, we need to be fed.
What feeds you, Spiritually?
So, I ask you the same question Susan asked me: What feeds you, spiritually? I know the traditional answers: pray, read the bible, meditate, go to church, take communion, … I call these the Bread and Potatoes of Spiritual food.
But as I’ve explored the question, I have realized that these don’t always work for me. I used to feel guilty that these traditional means of connecting with God so often just left me cold and questioning whether God was there. Then someone quoted to me the words of an English Benedictine monk, John Chapman: “Pray as you can, not as you can’t”. These words freed me up to find my own ways of meeting God, outside of the Bread and Potatoes.
I am fed spiritually whenever I meet God
I am fed spiritually whenever I meet God and I have discovered a smorgasbord of ways to meet God. Yes, sometimes in church or when studying the Bible; I have added time tested methods like Journaling, Lectio Divina, looking at art and listening to music, lighting a candle, chanting and drumming.
But I also meet God in nature: looking a beautiful Sunset, walking an escarpment trail, watching squirrels play. And in spending time with others: lunch with a friend, visiting a shut in, an unexpected talk with a stranger, a phone call with a distant family member. As Paula D’Arcy, an author and retreat leader, says: “God comes to you disguised as your life”
A smorgasbord of prayer
All these are foods on my buffet table, and I can choose the “bread and potatoes” of spiritual food or have protein; a variety of foods make opportunities for God to come to me in different ways. But only if I turn up!
What feeds your Spirit?
What is on your buffet table? Stock it with items that set you up to meet God. Then turn up and ask God to meet you at this banquet table. Find your own appetizers that ready you for an encounter with the almighty: maybe a particular position, a prayer of approach, or lighting a candle. Fill your plate with the food you need, eat and enjoy. Remember not every meal is as satisfying as the best one you ever tasted, and sometimes you crave hamburger nor steak and lobster. Then, when you are full, rest in God’s embrace.
What feeds you, spiritually? Only you (with God’s help) can answer that. But know that the one who fed 5,000 families with 5 loaves and 2 fish and still had leftovers can and will feed you, but only if you are willing to turn up.