Pentecost 9 A: Gift not Goal

Matthew 14:13-21

Dear Partner in Preaching,

First off, my apologies, as I realize these reflections are nearly useless to you when they come this late in the week. I have not yet found a writing rhythm at my new call to get these out consistently earlier in the week (though it occurred to me if I could double up this weekend I could write on more or less the same schedule except it would be a week ahead – pray for me 🙂 ).

In any event, just a few thoughts on this familiar passage:

1) All of this – leaving the retreat he craved to tend to the crowds, healing the sick, feeding the thousands – all of this stems from Jesus’ compassion. Do we realize just how compassionate Jesus is? Not just back them but also toward us and the variety of needs we bring? Do we realize that basking in that compassion is likely to make us more compassionate as well? The tendency, when we read that Jesus is compassionate, is to take it as an example and push ourselves to be more compassionate too. But perhaps we might try not to make a gift into a goal and just bask in Jesus’ compassion – then and now – and see what happens when we do.

2) When I read this Gospel story, I am reminded of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century penchant for offering rational explanations for miracle stories to make them more scientifically palatable. This was probably one of the easiest stories in that regard, as commentators suggested that Jesus’ action of sharing what he had prompted others to bring forth what they had imagined keeping for themselves. Maybe. Maybe not. Though prompting that kind of generosity might be its own kind of miracle! But maybe the “miracle” isn’t really the point. Maybe it’s more that Jesus, because of both his compassion for those around him and his trust in God, saw possibilities where the disciples only saw limitations. He takes what is there, gives thanks, and gives it away trusting that God will find it to be enough.

What if our congregations acted like that, Dear Partner? What if rather than fretting whether we have enough, we simply give thanks for what we have, put it to use for those around us, and see just how far God might stretch and, indeed, multiply it?

The temptation, again, will be to turn gift into goal. That is, to make this kind of creative, trusting, thankful stewardship an example to follow or, worse, the standard by which we are judged. Rather, I’d say it is a promise to be heard. That is, God promises to take what we offer with thanksgiving and use it, stretch it, even multiply it to make sure it’s enough. Enough for us, enough for those around us.

God is still at work in and through our congregations and people, Dear Preacher. We are enough. They are enough. You are enough. God is not done doing good to us and for us and through us. Blessings on your preaching this week.

Yours in Christ,

PS: I’ll put a link to my column of three years ago as well.