Trinity VIII Year A Proper 13 2nd August 2020
A few thoughts on each of the readings appointed for today.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
On first reading one might well wonder what Isaiah is on about in this portion of Scripture. How can you buy anything without money? And why does he tell you not to buy anything that does not feed you?
Actually, I think Isaiah is on to something. He has a a real message for those of us living in the developed world in the 21st century.
All too often we read or see, in the media, people spending money to excess buying ‘stuff’ to fill holes in their lives. Stuff they think will bring them lasting happiness. It is a shallow, materialistic way of life and I think one to be guarded against. ‘Stuff’ can never bring you happiness and as they say; ‘you can’t take it with you’ either.
What brings happiness and contentment is that which feeds the soul. Such things as friendship, love, peace and joy – intangible things and things which no matter how much money you have do not cost a penny. But then neither are they for sale, they are freely given.
It is these free gifts that Isaiah rightly recognises as being the things we thirst for and more often overlook when we try to replace them with material ‘stuff’. What Isaiah is encouraging us to do is to develop discernment – the ability to see what it truly is that we desire, need or want and to identify those things that we think we need but do not actually want.
“Listen so that you may live.”
It is not material things that give one life, it is the things intangible and freely given that do and if anything this pandemic time has taught us it is that the simple things in life are the most precious. How much have we come to really value our loved ones and the opportunity to spend time with them. Conversations across the internet or handwritten cards and letters have lifted our spirits far more than any delivery of ‘stuff’. Isaiah is right, it is the things you cannot but that are the most important.
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
As short as this gobbet is from Paul’s epistle to the Romans is, it is none the less full of Paul’s pain. Paul is being persecuted for his conversion to Christianity by those from whom he comes – the Jews. Paul was once the zealous, totally committed Jew, probably the Saul who is mentioned in Acts chapters 7 and 9 and who was present at the stoning of Stephen.
Saul’s conversion and his renaming as Paul, was painful, even violent and like all converts he wanted more than anything else to see his fellow Jews come to follow Jesus, to know the Christ as he has come to know him. He is in real agony that his kindred have cut themselves off from recognising Jesus as the Messiah and he wishes that he could forget his past and his people – for it would make the pain he feels less. Yet, he can’t forget that he is a Jew and that his people think he is mad for following Christ:
“To them belongs the adoption...and comes the Messiah”
To them belongs Christ but they reject him. They cannot see who he is and Paul mourns for those he loves. I don’t always agree with what Paul has to say (but this is the real Paul, not a later writer using his name) and here he is writing from the heart and his pain is obvious. I warm to him in his turmoil.
In my youth, when my conversion or return to faith, was still fresh, it was like Paul’s also raw. I grieved that those I loved didn’t love Christ like I did, and nor did they want to worship him either in the manner I did. As I have grown in my faith, my feelings have changed but I still remember the pains of my conversion. What about you? Have you ever felt pain because of your faith? Have you ever wished your loved ones could love Christ as you do? I you have then you can probably emphasise with Paul in this short extract from his epistles.
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
This is such a familiar passage of Scripture to most of us. How many of you had this read to you as a child be it, at home or at school. Were you as amazed as I was with what Jesus did with five loaves and two fishes in the face of feeding 5000 people?
I think this miracle of Jesus is one of my favourites. Why? Simply because as I have lived with it for most of my life I have come to see so much more in it than it first appears to contain. For a start more than 5000 people were fed. The text says; ‘about 5,000 men besides women and children’. In counting heads only the men were deemed important enough to count (in the society of the time women and children were outside the covenant and therefore not worth counting) it was only the free-born Jewish males who literally counted. If you consider that each man was probably there with a wife and children and/or younger siblings too, the feeding perhaps should be entitled the ‘feeding of the 25,000’! So then how did five loaves and two fish feed that lot with basketfuls left over?
Once I had realised that there were woman present during this miraculous feeding I began to think that no woman would have left home that day without packing provisions for the day. The men, being singled minded, as we men can be, might have decided to go and hear the
preacher but the women, perhaps being more being practical, would have thought ahead and prepared the picnic. Yes, I am stereotyping but perhaps there is something in my musings. If the women had picnics packed then when it came time to eat, the picnics could and would have been shared, for one always packs more than enough. In a happy crowd it is also natural to want to share what you have with those you have gotten to know. The miracle for me is the generosity of people towards each other – sandwiches for two can usually feed three.
If every picnic present was shared then no wonder there was more than enough to go round. The fact that there were baskets of crumbs left over is also very significant. Significant in that they show that there is always room for more in Christ. Christ’s love and message is not just for a select few – the 5000 men - but for ALL God’s people and like love there is always enough of Christ to go round. If other people had suddenly turned up
at the feeding then they too could have been fed with both food and the words of Christ.
What I believe is important in this story is that it tells us that there will always be enough to share and that no one will ever be turned away from Christ. What we have to do daily, is to share what we have, knowing that to share is blessed and that in sharing we will always have enough left over to do other things with and sharing has become a big part of our lives own lockdown. I hope as a society and individuals we won’t in the future forget what sharing means or the joys it can bring.