Read: Matthew 14:13-21
You’ve most likely read this passage before, but it’s funny how familiar stories take on new meanings at different times. Today, we’re faced with a massive crisis. Your school, college or uni has most likely been closed. Cafe’s and restaurants aren’t open. Some parks have been shut. Churches are meeting online.
Understandably, it’s a really strange, unsettling and worrying time. So, what can this familiar passage teach us in these new, daunting and scary times?
Look at verses 15-16. In today’s climate, a mass gathering like this would now be broken up, but go back 2,000 years (pre lockdown!) and it just shows that people were desperate to hear from Jesus. Like today, the people had questions, worries and concerns, and Jesus was saying something that was groundbreaking. Plus he was healing people. But, when the disciples point out that this crowd needed feeding, Jesus tells them to find the food.
Today, we know that Jesus can still heal and still meet people’s needs, but he’s asking us to get involved in what he’s doing. In this time of isolation, worry and concern, how can we bring healing, comfort and encouragement to our friends and neighbours? We know we can’t be there in the flesh, but can we offer prayer, connect via FaceTime or WhatsApp with those who are lonely and self isolating, and make sure we’re a calm and loving voice of encouragement and hope.
Like Pastor Huang who leads a church in Wuhan, we can embrace the technology we have at our fingertips to be a blessing to others:
“I think it’s bringing us closer more than ever. We pray, share information, and make decisions together. The virus can’t stop us.”
There are two big responses to the outbreak. The first is to look out for ourselves and immediate loved ones. People are bulk buying, stockpiling and ensuring they have what they need. Then there are others who are giving from what they have to help others. There are nurses and doctors putting themselves on the frontline and people stepping up to make sure their vulnerable neighbours have what they need to stay safe and get through self isolation.
So, look at verse 17 in this light. Out of 5,000 people, the disciples managed to cobble together five loaves and two fishes. John’s version of this story (John 6:9) says it was a little boy who gave them this food. But what about the other 4,999 people? Did they not bring anything at all? That seems pretty unlikely. Maybe, and we don’t know if this is the case, but maybe, those thousands of others didn’t want to share their food as they thought they would go short.
We all have an impulse to look after ourselves – to put ourselves first. And this is what makes Jesus’ teaching so radical – he consistently says we need to resist that urge and put others first. To serve. To give and give and give and give. Take this example from the church in Iran, one of the most dangerous countries in the world to publicly live as a Christian, and where the virus is having a terrible impact:
“We are doing all we can to provide food packages for the elderly and vulnerable who are unable to go out these days, or for those who have lost their job in these difficult circumstances. Throughout the year we shared the good news of Christ with our neighbours and community; now we have a chance to BE good news.”
Now this is the key to the passage. Jesus takes what little is given and enough is provided for everyone.. One boy’s lunch feeds 5,000. The point is, when we trust God, when we give to Him, there will always be enough. We can’t out give Him. In these uncertain times, when loo rolls are short and basic foods aren’t on shopping shelves, when numbers of sick are rising everyday and our social lives, education and jobs are being restricted, can we really trust?
It’s hard. We know that some who get the virus are dying. We know that not everyone is always healed, that many are losing jobs and struggling with what is happening. But, we also know God is loving, kind and able to give us all we need. With that knowledge, we can move beyond fear and anxiety and live out our love of God. Now is the time to step up and trust Him like we’ve never trusted before. It’s time we really became more and more like Jesus.
Pastor Huang gives us the challenge: “Crises force change. Let’s use this virus crisis to become more like Jesus and grow closer to God. It’s time to be church rather than do church.”
Father God. Thank You that I can trust You. Thank You that in these strange, worrying times, You are able to give us all we need. Help me give back to You. Help me find ways to show Your love and hope to those in need at this time. Help the church around the world shine your love like never before. Use me to bring comfort, healing and hope. Amen.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.