Sermon: It May Not Take Much, But It Might

August 6, 2017
Matthew 14:13-21

Let’s spend just a moment with our friend Jacob. He was on his way home. He’d done well. He had lots of livestock – and my apologies, because I misread how he got them from Laban and told you the wrong story last week. It was a trick involving selective breeding for spots rather than something as simple as paint. Jacob probably wished it had been as simple as paint.

In any case, he’d become wealthy. He was wealthy enough to need servants. He’d done what his father and mother told him to do: he went and got married. In fact, he married his first cousin. He married two of his first cousins. He had eleven sons and a daughter by four different women. All of which should have endeared him to his father, even if you and I look upon it all with some shock, because that’s not how we do things.

Still, he knew that his brother Esau, whom he’d underpaid for his birthright and whom he’d tricked for his blessing (that Esau): he knew Esau would not be happy. So he sent his angry brother a gift: a big flock of sheep, and of goats, and of cattle. He even sent his wives and his children out ahead, remaining behind as he asked God to preserve him. He thought that his brother Esau would take a lot of persuading, and a very big bribe, to accept him back into the family.

It may not take much, Jacob reasoned, but it might.

In fact, it did take more. It took a wrestling match with a powerful being we might call an angel or some other manifestation of the holy. It took a wrestling match that put Jacob’s hip out of joint. Jacob even had to accept a new name – Israel, the One who Strives with God.

It may not take much, Jacob reasoned, but it might. It might take a lot, or more than a lot. It might.

In contrast, Jesus faced a big problem with small resources. He had no flocks of sheep or goats or cattle. He had no wives or children. He didn’t even have anybody to bribe to solve this problem of five thousand hungry people.

He didn’t have servants. He had some friends, some students, but they didn’t have the resources to meet the need (in the first century or the twenty-first, students don’t usually have a lot of extra resources).

What Jesus had was compassion.

As Clifton Kirkpatrick writes in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3: “The key reality is that Jesus had compassion. In spite of incredible pressures to the contrary, compassion for people was his prime motivation. It is not compassion in the abstract. It is a compassion that cares deeply about the most basic needs of all of us.”

Jesus had come to this lonely place because King Herod had executed John the Baptist. Perhaps Jesus had come to grieve; perhaps he had come to postpone the confrontation with the authorities which was yet to come. The disciples came with him to be with him. The crowds came without an invitation.

Jae Won Lee writes in a separate essay in Feasting on the Word: “Jesus offers the crowds an alternative world where compassion overturns status and stands in stark contrast to imperial brutality. While the Herodian imperial banquet results in the killing of a local prophet, Jesus of Nazareth attends to the daily life and needs of the crowd and feeds them.”

And in this case, it didn’t take much. Five loaves and two fish.

It may not take much – but it might.

Because it really did take a lot. It took everything the disciples had. Five loaves and two fish.

I’ve had house guests for most of the last month, and let me tell you about leaving the house for a day’s outing. There’s the lunch sandwiches and the trail mix. There’s the water bottles and the backpacks. If the expedition is to the beach, there’s towels and snorkels and masks. If it’s to the trail, there’s rain gear and fleece jackets, because you never know what will happen up on the mountain. For me, there’s always sunscreen, and there’s also camera gear and batteries and a tripod and so on.

Leaving the house would take two or three trips out to the car to get everything in. And in my case, at least, another trip or two back in for the things I’d forgotten and left on the table.

For the day’s adventure, it may not take much – but it might.

So I look at the disciples with their five loaves and two fish with a certain amazement, and incomprehension. They knew they were following Jesus out into the unknown, and this is all they brought? Just five loaves and two fish? Amazing.

Well, to give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they’d eaten the rest already.

And Jesus turned back to them and said, “We don’t need to send anybody away. You feed them.”

I can just imagine that at least two of them had their mouths full when one of them said, “Um, Jesus, we’ve only got five loaves and two fish left.”

And though it may not take much, it very well might.

They had every reason to believe that it might.

And yet, it didn’t take much at all.

Well. Just all they had.

There’s the challenge of this text. Because when Jesus asked his disciples to feed the impossible crowd, he didn’t just ask them to do it on that occasion. He asked all of us who profess to follow him, down the centuries, to do the same. To bring all we have to make the impossible possible.

Sing a line or so of “The Impossible Dream.”

And I have to tell you, this business of taking on the impossible dream sounds wonderful when it’s being sung by a great baritone, but it’s really scary when it’s not a stage, it’s real life.

Now let me tell you. I’m really good at giving some of what I have. Seriously. I’m so good at giving some of what I have. Amazingly good. I’m just great at it.

But I also confess this: I’m pretty bad at giving all of what I have.

Standing here, I’m trying to remember a time that I did. I can’t come up with one.

It may not take much – but it might.

With all we have, though, Jesus works miracles. When we bring our resources, Jesus multiplies them. When we bring our hopes for peace, Jesus breaks the bow and shatters the spear. When we bring our love, Jesus builds loving communities. When we bring our strength, Jesus moves mountains.

And when we are the ones in need? When we bring our hungers, Jesus greets us at this table awaiting us. When we bring our thirsty spirits, Jesus refreshes us with the cup. When we bring our brokenness, Jesus heals us in the breaking of the bread.

It doesn’t take much. A small piece of bread; just a taste of the fruit of the vine. And in it, Jesus renews us once again.

It may not take much – but it might, either for our healing or for the benefit of those around us.

And more than what it takes, is what our giving brings: health, and hope, and rejoicing for a hurting, helpless, and despairing world.


The stained glass window pictured above is in the Cathedrale Notre Dame in Saint-Omer, France. Used by permission. Photo by GFreihalter – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on August 6, 2017

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