Give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now
This week’s sacred story comes after Jesus gets some disturbing news and tries to find the time and space to get away from it all…and still…crazy wondrous life-giving things still happen. Read the full story of Matthew 14:13-33 here.
Now when Jesus heard this…
Jesus has just heard that John, known by many as the Baptist, but known to Christ as his friend and cousin, and companion in preaching good news...
Jesus heard that John whom he knew and loved was violently martyred by the King he criticized. And so Jesus, as God and as human being….grieves and mourns, and wants to get away from it all for a bit. He seeks to escape into the wilderness, the dessert, a deserted place. I find so much solace and solidarity in knowing that even God experiences trauma and emotional, physical, spiritual exhaustion. It reminds me that I am not weak or lesser or lazy for having experiencing those things too.
This story of violent and oppressive power is nothing new, and yet neither has it withered in time. The ancient Pharaohs of Egypt sought to destroy the Hebrew people through the annihilation of its first born sons, then by increasingly cruel slavery that would have the people work themselves to death. Empire and kings are always doing this, convincing or compelling us to sacrifice ourselves in the name of some greater good – a good that never seems to reach anyone beyond the top of the pyramid. But in these ancient times of emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, God led the people away from it all, into the wilderness. And there, when the hour was late and there was little to no food to be found, God fed the masses with blessed bread from heaven and they were satisfied, and there was extra to go around. There, in the midst of the storm of military might bearing down on them, pinning them against the wall of water that was the Red Sea until all hope seemed to be lost and they thought God has gone from them and had left them to die…God reveals God’s control over the waters, makes a way through the storm and saves those crying out for help. God assures the disciples in the boat in the same way that God reveals Godself to Moses: it is I, the great I am.
The story of an invested, compassionate, and saving God is nothing new, and yet has not withered with time. Just as Moses led the people to a promised land, flowing with milk and honey, so Jesus reveals a new kingdom, a new way that is marked by compassion, abundance, and a different kind of power than that which is typical of empire and rulers. Even while God grieves and seeks to tend to God’s own need for space, care, and healing, God can also see the needs of others, sees their humanity alongside its own. Jesus views this with compassion instead of inconvenience. In this world, I think we fear practices of compassion because we know that our energy and capacity are limited and to extend it to others would sometimes mean withdrawing it from ourselves. And in this world, recognizing our limits and caring for ourselves through rest and retreat is good and holy and healthy. But in the new promised land, the new kingdom that Jesus is bring about, the limitations fall away and there is enough compassion to go around. Like the disciples, we worry that there simply is not enough food or resources to meet everyone’s basic needs; we worry that we are not enough to do or be what God says we are and can do. And yet, in the new way that God is creating, there is not only enough, but more than enough, and people are satisfied, full, whole. Like Peter, we find ourselves in rickety boats far from the safety of land and surrounded by threatening water and wind, we wish for God to draw near and to give us the power to defy . But when that divine presence and power arrives, all the times we’ve stumbled and struggled before won’t let us believe it’s really possible. And yet, in this world of greater possibilities than we can even imagine, God is still committed to lifting us up and out of death.
These stories of feeding 5,000 people (not including women and children, cuz…you know…patriarchy is nothing new either) and the story of walking on water, these are often described as miracles. To our modern, cynical, educated ears the claim of a miracle may seem a little extreme, and even cause us to dismiss them thinking that well, sure, that’s easy for JESUS to say and do, the whole God thing and all. But in this new kingdom and in this new kind of king, power is not hoarded, but is extended. God isn’t worried that giving power away will diminish it. God knows there is more than enough to go around, and so Jesus tell the disciples that THEY will be the ones doing the feeding, walking on water, and even greater things than this. Jesus blesses the bread, but then tells the disciples to be the ones who give the people something to eat. Jesus shows up amidst and above the crashing waves, but then invites Peter to get out there and join him. Jesus shows us what is not only possible, not only probable, but PROMISED through God. It is a way of life-giving life that we don’t just witness or inherit, but one in which we are empowered to be partners in the creation and cultivation. God reveals a world in which care and compassion are not opposed to power, but intertwined with it. This is a gospel, a message of good news, that meets me where I’m at but does not leave me there. And that scares the crap out me, but it also gives me so much hope that my heart could burst. And for all of that, I give thanks. Amen.