Column by Mary Lee Talbot
“At first glance, (the feeding of the 5,000) is a story about food in a very difficult situation. Jesus wanted the disciples to take care of the people in an impromptu wilderness picnic. But how do you feed people when there is no food?” asked the Rev. Daisy L. Machado.
Machado preached at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Extravagant Hospitality” and the scripture reading was Matthew 14: 13-21.
Having enough to eat is a basic human right, Machado said, yet one in 10 people worldwide are food-insecure. In the United States, 34 million people are food-insecure and 9 million of them are children.
Machado asked the congregation, “Is this story really about physical food? Jesus knew that his disciples still did not understand what his ministry was all about.”
The story of feeding the multitude is found in all four of the gospels. In Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 14 begins with the murder of John the Baptist by Herod. Jesus withdrew from the crowd to grieve, “to clear his thoughts in light of his own ministry and to consider the price he would pay for his own confrontation with the authorities,” she said.
No matter how he tried to get away, Jesus was surrounded by thousands of people who were homeless, hungry, sick and ignored by the empire. They hungered for justice, hospitality and hope, and Jesus looked upon them with compassion and healed the sick.
“This crowd was in the wilderness, in a place of scarcity. The kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Jesus stood in sharp contrast. Herod destroyed life, Jesus saved lives,” Machado said.
Jesus was engaged with the crowd and the disciples and, as night approached, they were looking for a solution to a sticky situation. “They were very observant and a clever bunch,” Machado said. “They got together and thought of a solution to suggest to Jesus — that since it was late and they were in a deserted place, as if he had not noticed, that he send the crowd away to the first century equivalent of 7-Eleven.”
She continued, “Jesus said nope; he had not called them to follow him in order to put faith in the imperial economy. The wealthy are always fed at the expense of the poor and Rome could not supply what the poor needed.”
There are still people in need today, Machado asserted: people who are homeless, live in deep poverty, are in prison and forgotten, called illegal on the southern border. “Author Elie Weisel said, ‘No human being is illegal.’ We have been taught to fear that the homeless and people on public assistance will steal our abundance. Can this be possible? We have to grapple with our own sense of scarcity.”
She continued, “We ask how we can provide for others when our own resources seem to dwindle. What is our response to Jesus when we feel our own scarcity of resources, as if we have nothing for our own needs?”
For those who believe the myths of this empire today, the demands of Jesus are unreasonable. “Jesus, tan loco — is crazy — asking us to feed others when we have so little in the way of resources,” she said.
Jesus, however, wanted the disciples to know how necessary they were and are to his mission. He taught them to be critical of poverty and isolation, but not blame people for their hunger and poverty. Jesus wanted them to push for justice.
One scholar said when Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowd, it was “a divine jest.”
“I think it was a dare,” Machado said. “Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Take me at my word and see what happens.’ Jesus had been feeding the hungry and healing the sick alone; now it was time for the disciples to take over.”
Jesus urged the disciples to respond in an alternative way to the needs of the crowd: with compassion, sufficiency and shared resources. There were five small loaves and two fish, the food of the poor. Even though the Romans controlled the amount of fish caught in the Sea of Galilee, that did not stop Jesus.
“Jesus wanted the disciples to touch the crowd, to see their anxiety and tears. He wanted the disciples to be moved by compassion. The disciples saw the crowd as ‘those people,’ and Jesus challenged their lack of faith, vision and compassion,” Machado said.
She continued, “Jesus welcomed the crowd with extravagant, generous hospitality. Jesus embodied the abundance of compassion and hospitality. This is the call Jesus makes to us, to live out of spiritual audacity, to claim abundance and offer it to others.”
It is not enough, Machado said, to tell someone “I will pray for you.” She told the congregation, “Jesus calls you to do something. If you have food, distribute it. If you have money, donate it. If you have time, volunteer.”
Those who society labels problems are the ones we are called to serve, Machado told the congregation. “Serve with extravagant spiritual audacity, be salt and light, promote justice and welcome all,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. Mother Theresa said, ‘If you can’t feed 100, just feed one.’ Then you will see that every person is valuable in God’s eyes.”
Machado prayed in English and in Spanish. She asked the congregation to stand and take an inventory of all their blessings. “Put aside your worries, concentrate on all that is good. Rejoice in those things that you know are from God. Offer the world extravagant hospitality.”
The Rev. J. Paul Womack, co-pastor with his wife Natalie Hanson at Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, presided. The Rev. Debbie Grohman, a member of the Chautauqua Choir, Motet Choir, Motet Consort, board of the Presbyterian House and a lifelong Chautauquan, read the scripture. For the prelude, Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, played “Préambule,” by Louis Vierne, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The Motet Choir sang “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face,” music by Percy Whitlock and text by Horatio Bonar, under the direction of Stafford and accompanied by Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar. Stafford played “Toccata,” from Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor as the postlude on the organ. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching was provided by The Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy.