Is. 55.1-3, Ps 145.14-21, Rom 8.31b-39, Mt 14.13-21
Rev'd Daniel Irvine
Today we are presented in our gospel reading with one of the more well known of Jesus’ miracles; the feeding of the 5000.
Now, as we discussed in our study group on Tuesday evening, one of the first questions that we often get confronted with when reading and contemplating the gospel miracles tends to be: Did it really happen?
Closely followed by questions about how, or the sentiment that if it didn’t then the story loses all of its value.
But as Australian theologian and biblical scholar Brendan Byrne points out, this is a real pity because it is a line of enquiry that leads us down a cul-de-sac which misses the main thing that the gospels wanted to communicate in describing the miracles of Jesus.
Namely, that in his person and his activity, Jesus is fulfilling the promises sketched out in scripture, especially in Second Isaiah, for the messianic age and the kingdom of God, or more accurately the rule of God.
That link is certainly reinforced by the first lesson today from Second Isaiah, which describes God’s invitation to come and eat without price, an invitation to abundant life that is possible within the covenantal loving kindness of the Divine.
And yet, in this particular case at least, I don’t think we need to overly concern ourselves with natural or supernatural causes for this miracle.
In fact, I feel there is a much greater miracle to be understood and realised among us if we, for a moment, avoid an understanding that relies on God to somehow magically making the few loaves and fish multiply to feed more than 5,000 people.
The potential for this miracle to be truly amazing, for me, lies in the idea that Jesus performed the miracle of elevating the human spirit so that it became truly God-like in its nature and so was able to accomplish something truly incredible.
Imagine a situation where Jesus, simply through his love and compassion, inspired those who had followed him to that deserted place to share what they had with each other so that that day, no one went home hungry.
Without quoting John Lennon too much, imagine a world with no need for greed or hunger, wouldn’t that look like a miracle and a sure sign of the reign of God in our lives and in our world?
I have been inspired myself just recently since I was put in the position of having to buy a new mobile phone (something I put off until it is absolutely necessary). While trying to learn how it works and how to operate the new features I came across a preloaded “app” called “Samsung Global Goals”.
Intrigued I investigated it to learn that Samsung have partnered with the United Nations to help promote and raise awareness and funds to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. (These are represented by the lapel pin I have recently started wearing.)
Through this app a person can learn about the 17 different goals set up as a “roadmap” for humanity and the ways different people and groups all around the world are working to try and make these goals a reality.
The app also raises money for the goals by allowing a person to donate directly to different causes but also by allowing the user to donate the advertising revenue the app generates to a goal (which Samsung currently matches dollar for dollar).
Now on an individual level it is not a lot, I have reached just over $25 since I got my new phone, but imagine if a billion people did that worldwide?
Now it might seem that I have been sidetracked a little but the link to our Gospel and to the promise of the rule of God, is that many of the sustainable development goals look just like the promises held out to us in prophecy and which began to be realised during the life of Jesus.
Today, for instance, speaks of Goal 2: Zero Hunger!
Through the app a user can learn some of the vital statistics and problems facing our brothers and sisters around the world at the moment and into the future.
Current estimates are that nearly 690 million people are hungry, or 8.9 percent of the world population – up by 10 million people in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years.
The majority of the world’s undernourished – 381 million – are still found in Asia. More than 250 million live in Africa, where the number of undernourished is growing faster than anywhere in the world.
In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity.
An estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019.
If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030, or 9.8 percent of the global population.
144 million children under age 5 were affected by stunting in 2019, with three quarters living in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2019, 6.9 per cent (or 47 million) children under 5 were affected by wasting, or acute undernutrition, a condition caused by limited nutrient intake and infection.
All of that is brought into an even starker reality when we add the statistics that in Australia more than 67% of adults and 25% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, and the numbers of individuals admitted to hospital for weight loss surgery had more than doubled in the past decade.
While some of this is due to the kinds of food we eat and a more sedentary lifestyle, these figures also represent the unequal sharing of our food resources.
If we add on the fact that up to one third of globally produced food is wasted between the farm and the table we ought to be truly horrified.
To help put that fact in perspective, if just a quarter of that wasted food were saved it would be enough to feed 870 million people a year!
This is only an example dealing with specifically with food.
What a miracle it would truly be, if, in our modern world and our advanced society, we woke up to the fact that the world actually has enough food to feed itself, enough wealth to end poverty and enough medicine to help the millions who die needlessly, but that all of it is in the hands of a comparatively small group who, it seems, only seek to gain more for themselves.
As disciples of Jesus we are all tasked with continuing his mission, the mission to make the rule of God a reality in this world, here and now, not to sit idly by and wait for a hopeful intervention by God at some point in the indeterminate future!
Now we might wonder how we can help when the problem is so large, or what we could possibly do to make an impact.
Well, apart from learning and using our resources like food more responsibly, we can help and make a difference in the lives of those around us.
Right now Thomas and the Parishes of Mt Barker and Strathalbyn have already done so much to help those international students who have been put into a position of hunger because of COVID-19, and we can continue to do so.
Going forward we can try and more actively and consistently help people like Georgi Thomas and his work with the Mustard Seed Family to provide food and and other essentials to those in need in Adelaide as well as around the world.
And to that end, as a start, I am hoping to set up a collection point at the Parish Centre in Mt Barker where we can bring our 10 cent recycling for Georgi to collect and use it to help those who need it.
So the next time you are tempted to walk past a can or bottle on the street, consider that by picking it up you could not only help the environment but also help feed the hungry.
Now without criticising those out there who might dismiss this reading of the text, a reading that involves a change in the human heart to share and help one another, and instead cling to a literal understanding that the 5,000 were feed by a “supernatural” intervention by God that multiplied the five loaves and two fish, I would ask you to consider:
Does that belief stem from your conviction that God can do anything (a conviction I hope we all share), or does it come from a different place, a place that acknowledges the problem but says that it is God’s problem to fix and so I don’t actually have to do anything?
Is such an attitude founded purely in a literal understanding of scripture, or is it also based on a desire (however unconscious) to avoid any actual responsibility for our own role in growing the kingdom as a reality on earth, as it is in heaven?
Are we really prepared to utter the words of Cain and say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Yes, it is daunting and huge and amazing and filled with all sorts of scary possibilities but it might just be that God is calling us to something beyond the ordinary, the usual, the comfort zone that we may have gotten ourselves firmly entrenched into.
I mean if the true miracle in our gospel today actually was the sharing of Jesus’ love and compassion to encourage others to share their resources then that might mean that we might actually have to share our resources.
It might mean the entire system of our global economy needs to be rethought.
It might mean the prejudices and injustices inbuilt into our social and political systems actually need to be dealt with by people willing to make hard decisions that looks at global results not tribal advantage.
Ultimately it would just be much easier for us to sit back and think that God will just take care of everything, there is nothing we can, or worse, nothing we should, do. But that is not the picture of God that Jesus gave to us.
Now I am not pretending to have all the answers but what I have done is to print some copies of the information for the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger, for you to take home and read, it has some ideas about ways we can help but I want to suggest that the first step is to learn and to truly understand and then be moved to action, just as Jesus was moved with compassion in our gospel today.
Let it be our ongoing prayer as disciples to be more and more conformed to the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the true image and reflection of the compassionate heart of Almighty God, and that as we are made more and more Christ-like, that we may willingly share in the burden of trying to make the kingdom of heaven a reality here on earth.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
 Source: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/  Source: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/overweight-obesity/overview  Source: https://feature.undp.org/the-way-we-eat/  For more information on the Mustard Seed Family please visit www.themustardseedfamily.org.au