The Impossible Becomes Possible

Proper 13, Year A, RCL, Track 2

Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

Unidentified. Hand of God with loaves and fish, outside Brighton United Reformed Church. Photo by Anders Sandberg, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved July 30, 2020]. Original source

On some level, Paul wishes he could go back to his old ways, before knowing Christ. He misses the people, his people, the Jewish people whom he loves and knows. Those people who have most likely cut him off; disowned him. They probably see Paul as a corruptor of the true faith because Paul recognizes Jesus for who he is, the Messiah who is over all people both Jew and Gentile. This acknowledgment of the Lord is the blessing Paul is trying to express. Christ came for all of us and the love we share outweighs any other. The love we have in Christ does not make life easy; as most of us know. Nor does it allow us to put the work we are given back on Christ. The work we are given is ours and ours to do even if we find it difficult.

Paul knows the work that he has been given, to spread the Good News. We know that Paul doesn’t really want to go back to his old life, but there are times when his work is hard or seemingly impossible. And I think our parable of loaves and fish actually explains Paul’s experience very well.

A large crowd follows Jesus. They listen to him all day long. Evening approaches and what are the disciples thinking about? Maybe they are thinking about being alone in the deserted place. After all, they came to get some respite but the people followed them. The crowds won’t leave them alone. It seems clear that food is on their mind and maybe the disciples were hungry as well. So they, out of compassion, say, send the people away so they can eat. I don’t know exactly what happened but sending the hungry people away doesn’t sound very compassionate. Notice Jesus’ reaction. He doesn’t do what the disciples want. He doesn’t say, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. Jesus doesn’t take on the problem itself. Instead, he says you feed them; “you give them something to eat.”

I doubt this was the response the disciples were looking for. The disciples know the obvious problem. They don’t have enough to feed the mass of people; they only have enough food for themselves; five loves and two fish. We can almost hear them ponder how can they feed so many with so little? The disciples are approaching this problem from a sense of scarcity. An idea that says we don’t have enough to do what we want to do or are being called to do. But Jesus doesn’t give in to this fear. He says, bring the food to me.

Jesus takes the food, looks up to heaven, blesses and brakes the loaves, and gives it back to the disciples. There was no multiplication of food. They didn’t have baskets upon basket to distribute to the people. Jesus took what they had. He didn’t look at the enormity of the problem but instead looks to heaven and blesses what they already had. Jesus then steps back and hands the food, the same five loves and two fish back to the disciples to feed the people.

Out of faith, they did what they were asked. They took the five loves and two fish among the thousands of people. This is stepping out in faith. Not exactly knowing how the work is going to happen but having faith that you are following the work God has given you to do, even if it seems hard or impossible.

I’m sure the disciples were praying that they didn’t run out of food as they handed it to one person and then the next. It had to be hard work, walking around, handing out food to thousands and thousands of people. I don’t know at what point the disciples knew something fishy was going on. They handed out food but it just kept going and going like the energizer bunny. Or like the jar of flour and oil that Elijah promises the widow; Or the manna that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. Maybe it wasn’t until the end when they were cleaning up and had twelve baskets of leftovers that the miracle dawned on them and they realized that the impossible just happened.

This is how miracles work; at least in my life. When we pray for healing. We don’t know when it actually happens. We pray fervently and at some point, our loved one gets a clean bill of health. Or when we feed the children in our community, the food and money seem to come in, the work seems to get done and the people are fed.

Maybe this is how miracles work in our lives. We turn to Christ with our problem. We tell him what we think needs to be done. But he then reflects the problem back to us. Sometimes with new insight; possibly with new questions. But the work that needs to be done comes back to us. And through our faith in him, the work gets done. The people are fed. The prayer is answered.

Unlike most paintings and icons depicting this story, it is not Jesus who does the work of distributing the food. All the work fell on the disciples. Christ calls us to be His hands and feet. He calls us to go into the world and help those in need. He doesn’t turn them away or tell them to go fend for themselves. He makes sure what we have is exactly what we need, even if we don’t think we have enough.

We often think of this parable as a miracle of multiplication but it is more of a miracle of accomplishing what we thought was impossible through Christ. It’s a story about trusting our walk in faith; knowing that Christ keeps his promises to us. In many of the epistles, Paul experiences hardship, roadblocks, and seemingly impossible situations including death. But we find that it is Paul’s steadfast faith in the Lord that keeps him going and the impossible becomes possible. Life is a mystery, full of unknowns, yet we trust that in this life and the next God is with us and that in Him we can do infinitely more than we ask or imagine.

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