“Pop-Up Jesus” Matthew 14:13-21
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Where do you go to find solitude and serenity right now? That seems like an easy question to answer, but maybe not since we’ve had to stay at home so much since mid-March. Getting away from it all may not be so easy with work either, as employers know you are a captive in your home and may actually expect you to be on call all the time. Then there are other people in our homes who have needs to be met and seem to find you even when you hide out. In times like these, we need the benefits of solitude more than ever and yet this may be the most challenging thing for us to find now.
This is a challenge we see Jesus having in our Gospel reading today. His world is crowded with people. He had just learned that John the Baptist had been killed and he was no doubt looking for solace in solitude with God. But soon the crowds and their needs found him. Rather than snapping at them or hiding after seeing them, he goes out to them with compassion, with his healing power for the sick among them. As this goes on a while and the day grows late, he also then shows compassion by feeding them. The disciples had advised him to send them away so they could go into town and eat, but Jesus wants them to stay and makes a meal for them out of all the disciples had–five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus, out of his compassion and as a vessel of God’s power, transforms this small amount of food into an abundance that would feed not only the five thousand men in the crowd but also their wives and children. It was a great demonstration of compassion in action, one that met the needs of people and one the disciples would never forget. They all, like Jacob in our Hebrew scripture reading, learned that God sometimes works in surprising and powerful ways to transform people and things.
Like Jesus, we are to have compassion for people around us today and we are to show it with our actions that tend to their physical needs–healing and hunger. We are to identify with Jesus as we find that God has called and empowered us to do similar acts of compassion in our world that he did in his. Are we seeing the people around us who need healing? As we look out at this healthcare crisis, increasing unemployment, and hunger, what will we do to help people who are suffering from its effects? And what about the people around us who have wounds of poverty, racism, incarceration, or alcohol and drug abuse? If we are seeing the need, what are we doing about it? One option is to look the other way, to run from the needs of our world, to hide in solitude somewhere until this dreaded disease passes. But that’s not what Jesus did and it’s not what we are to do either. In what ways will we allow ourselves to be vessels of God’s transformational power?
One way is by providing healing to the people around us. We can do this by being a healing presence rather than one that sickens the world around us. One thing the pandemic has revealed is how toxic some Christians are to our world as they behave and speak in ways that are antithetical to Jesus and his ministry of compassion. It is disheartening that many Christians and churches are actually contributing to the spread of the virus, hospitalizations, and even death. What followers of Jesus should be doing right now is working to make sure that healthcare is accessible and available for Black people and others who are disproportionately affected by this disease, loving neighbors by wearing masks and physical distancing, and by being a group of people who embody the healing power of Jesus.
Another way we can show compassion is by feeding the hungry in our neighborhood and community. Bloomberg News reported yesterday that almost 30 million people in our nation didn’t have enough food to eat last week. Some of those are right here in our neighborhood and throughout our city. We are to have the same compassion for them as Jesus did for the crowd of hungry people around him. We are to show that compassion in practical ways. As part of Highland Center Ministries, we serve 200-250 to go meals here on Thursdays from 4:00-6:00 pm. In light of the continued decline of the economy, we are considering an additional day for the meal. There are other ways of showing compassion with food, like volunteering at Noel Methodist, the food bank for our neighborhood. Or how about planting a garden at home or somewhere in Highland to provide fresh produce to people? If you don’t have a green thumb, how about donating canned goods or money to the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana? You may not have the gift of multiplying loaves and fish, but there is always something you can do to multiply food for others.
I read in a Volunteers of America newsletter this week about how VOA Washington, seeing the hunger need in their city, put together a pop-up food pantry to take around the city. They didn’t just have compassion for hungry people, they showed it with action, a very clever and effective one at that. It made me think of how that’s what Jesus did for his crowd and what we are to do for ours–be pop-ups for Jesus in our world today, going out to where there’s a crowd in need and sharing from God’s bounty of compassion.